Israeli study suggests method to reduce dangers of cancer-causing protein

Risk of some cancers may be reduced by boosting production of a single enzyme in the body, which in turns keeps BRD4 protein in check, say Ben Gurion University scientists

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A 3D illustration of breast cancer (Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen via iStock by Getty Images)
A 3D illustration of breast cancer (Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli scientists say they have made a discovery that could pave the way to neutralizing dangers posed by the cancer-causing protein BRD4.

When this protein becomes overactive due to a malfunction in the body, genes that cause various cancers become over-stimulated. But boosting the production of a particular enzyme in the body could well reduce the risk it poses, according to a new study by Prof. Dan Levy, a biologist at Ben Gurion University.

For years scientists have hypothesized that the SETD6 regulates BRD4 activity, but there has been limited understanding of the relationship.

Now, after lab experiments on human cells that originate from breast cancer patients, Levy has published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances giving the clearest explanation yet of how the enzyme impacts the protein.

“We not only confirm the hypothesis that the enzyme regulates the protein, but we also understand exactly how it does this,” said Levy, who conducted the research with his colleagues Dr. Zlata Vershinin and Dr. Vered Caspi, as well as international collaborators.  A woman undergoing CT scan as part of cancer screening (Drazen Zigic via iStock by Getty Images)

“Knowledge about the relationship between the protein and the enzyme is very valuable as it opens up possibilities for new therapeutics,” Levy told The Times of Israel. “In short, what our research indicates is that if we find ways to increase production of the enzyme, this is likely to inhibit activity of the BRD4 protein. This, in turn, can reduce the risk of cancer.”

Prof. Dan Levy of Ben Gurion University. (courtesy of Ben Gurion University)

He elaborated: “BRD4 was shown to be involved in the progression of many cancers, including breast cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer and others. We have every reason believe that this research could have very broad relevance.”

The idea of targeting certain proteins in order to try to fight cancer is not new, and existing drugs have been developed based on this approach. But this is the first time that a way has been found to target the BRD4 protein via the SETD6 relationship.

Levy’s lab is already working on identifying drugs that may boost enzyme production, and has found some likely options. “We are currently doing a large drug screening in the lab and already found very attractive candidates that have the potential to regulate this relationship,” Levy said.

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