Scientists in the USA have found a potential way to make lung and breast cancer cells easier to kill.
Some of the essential building blocks (proteins) of human cells contain mixtures of iron and sulphur. These iron-sulphur mixtures are destroyed by oxygen, and need to be constantly replaced in areas of the body where there is a lot of oxygen, like the lungs. This replacement process needs to happen even more often if cells are to grow at a very fast rate, as happens with cancer.
In this new study, published in Nature, researchers found that, when threatened by high levels of oxygen, lung cancer cells make more of a protein called NFS1, whose job is to create more iron-sulphur mixtures. They also found that, when they spread to the lungs and are exposed to more oxygen, breast cancer cells produce more NFS1 than the cells that stay in the breast.
The scientists discovered NFS1 by using a genetic method to ‘switch off’ the genes related to cell energy processes one by one. This finding was backed up by tests on mice and in data on humans.
Based on this finding, the researchers are now working on ways of blocking NFS1 to make cancer cells more vulnerable to oxygen, and easier to fight.
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