January 17th, 2019

U of L researchers learning more about cancer

By Nick Kuhl on July 29, 2018.

Biologists have published results about studies into molecule interactions
Dave Mabell
Lethbridge Herald
Researchers at the University of Lethbridge have uncovered more information about how cancers start.
They’ve discovered interactions between “microRNA” molecules and more specialized “transfer RNA” can affect cell death as well as cell reproduction. RNA — ribonucleic acid — is one of the building blocks of life, along with DNA.
Biologists Olga and Igor Kovalchuk recently published results of their ongoing studies in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences in the U.S.A., a professional journal.
They are collaborating with researchers at the University of Michigan, Boston University and Qiqihar Medical University in China.
“This is the first time that anybody has shown such interaction is possible,” says Olga Kovalchuk in a recent new release.
And that “it is actually functional, that it regulates biological processes, and also the processes that contribute to cancer,” she says.
Understanding these processes is important, she explains, because “these processes are pivotal for cancer, because cancer cells get unlimited capacity to divide, and no capacity to die.
“If you manipulate the levels of these RNAs, you affect these processes.”
It is widely understood that DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — provides genetic instructions for the development and growth of living things.
Those genes instruct each cell to make certain proteins.
DNA and RNA work together to produce those proteins. And studies have found some RNA molecules are known to be “coding RNAs.”
“For a long time, we thought only coding RNAs were important,” she says. “But then it was discovered that there are small RNAs called microRNAs.
“They do not code proteins, but they can interfere with the production of proteins.”
Now the U of L team has found one of the microRNA molecules will interact with another small molecule, “initiator transfer” RNA.
“We had a lot of work to do to prove that the two actually interact with each other,” Kovalchuk says.
When they do, it can affect cell proliferation and cell death, she reports.
The study has used a breast cancer model, she adds, but research is now focusing on children’s cancers as well.
“It has already started to garner attention,” she says.
“If it shows results with a couple of other cancers, we will have the potential to discuss the possibility of clinical trials.”
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