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Vitaly Pulunovsky and Svetlana Avdulov.

Vitaly Polunovsky, above, with research colleague Svetlana Avdulov, is lead author on a study that identified translation factor 4F, a protein that is a new target for blocking breast cancer tumor growth.

U researchers discover new breast cancer target

Published on July 16, 2004

University of Minnesota researchers have identified a new molecular target that when inhibited blocks cancerous tumor growth in the breast. Although molecular targets for cancers have been identified in the past, this one appears to be a "major hub" for tumor growth activity. The journal Cancer Cell published the research June 14. The molecular target, known as translation factor 4F, is an essential component of the protein synthesis machinery in normal cells and is necessary for cell viability and growth. However, when its activity becomes unregulated, tumors may form. While it is already known that one way of preventing tumor growth is to block the key proteins that drive cancer, there is a complication, says lead researcher Vitaly Polunovsky, professor of medicine in the University's Medical School and member of the Cancer Center. "There are many different proteins that cooperate to cause and maintain cancer, some of which are not yet identified," he says. "What is exciting about this study, is that we've identified a critical target, one that is able to stop other cancer-causing proteins from working up and down the line."

"Our work has identified translation factor 4F as the critical point to build a dam--the key chokepoint--in order to prevent the downstream flow of cancerous signals," says co-author Peter Bitterman.

Co-author Peter Bitterman, a professor of medicine, likens it to a series of streams that merge and flow together for a short distance, then break apart into a series of streams that flow to feed the cancer. "Our work has identified translation factor 4F as the critical point to build a dam--the key chokepoint--in order to prevent the downstream flow of cancerous signals," he says. Polunovsky and Bitterman are hopeful that this knowledge will lead to better breast cancer treatment. They are currently working with researchers at the University's College of Pharmacy on drug development and expect to begin preclinical testing within the next year in collaboration with co-author Douglas Yee, director of The Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Research Program. They believe that the results of the present investigation will spearhead future studies aimed at targeting the protein synthesis machinery as a way to prevent and treat breast cancer.

For more information, contact the Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Research Program.

--From the Academic Health Center

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