BGU prof. manipulates protein to disrupt and destroy brain cancer

A professor at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University has developed treatments that will either destroy cancerous stem cells or reverse their chemical properties into non-cancerous cells. Her work is destined to have a wide-ranging therapeutic impact, with the hope of huge clinical benefits that will lead to defeating the fatal scourge of cancer.
Illustration Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Prof. Varda Shoshan-Barmatz is manipulating molecules to treat and potentially cure glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer, as well as other cancers. The new patented treatments will either destroy cancerous stem cells or reverse their chemical properties into non-cancerous cells.

Glioblastoma is currently the most difficult brain tumor for doctors to shrink and kill quickly because of its chemical ability to resist treatment. According to the American Brain Cancer Association, glioblastoma represents 14.9% of all primary brain tumors, and has the highest number of cases of all malignant tumors, with an estimated 12,390 new cases predicted in the United States in 2017 alone.

Shoshan-Barmatz may have found the magic bullet to kill brain tumors by focusing on VDAC1, a major protein that appears to hold the key to metabolic adaptations during cancer development. VDAC1, which resides within the mitochondrial membrane, is over-expressed in cancer cells. Mitochondria play a pivotal role in regulating programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.”  

By manipulating the protein, she “hijacked” two important aspects of cancer cell development and survival by literally turning them against themselves. With a talented team at BGU’s Department of Life Sciences, Shoshan-Barmatz has been able to create and launch several patented strategies to promote apoptosis in cancer cells.

Prof. Varda Shoshan-Barmatz Photo Credit: Ben-Gurion University

The first strategy involves the screening, identification and development of several small molecules that can activate the pro-apoptotic activities of the protein.

A second involves VDAC1-based peptides that impair cancer cell growth and minimize the anti-apoptosis self-defense mechanisms of cancer cells. Testing of these peptides has been conducted in animal models of lung, breast and liver tumors, all showing success in inhibiting both tumor growth and the spread of cancer.

And yet a third strategy involves the silencing of VDAC1 expression, using molecules called “small interfering ribonucleic acids (siRNAs).” Testing of this method resulted in significant inhibition of glioblastoma development.

These fascinating new discoveries represent a potential new horizon in the development of anti-cancer strategies that would be capable of simultaneously targeting numerous characteristics of cancer development. Shoshan-Barmatz’s innovative anti-cancer agents are destined to have a wide-ranging therapeutic impact, with the hope of huge clinical benefits that will lead to defeating the fatal scourge of cancer.



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