Breaking the Code: Scientists Discover Key to How an Enzyme Has the Potential to Stop Tumor Growth

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Scientists funded by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) have solved the mystery of how a critical cell enzyme can perform two significant biological functions, revealing a mechanism that may halt the growth of cancer.

Scientists funded by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) have solved the mystery of how a critical cell enzyme can perform two significant biological functions, revealing a mechanism that may halt the growth of cancer. Scientists have known for over ten years that ancient enzymes -- the enzymes whose primary function is to add building blocks during the construction of proteins -- also can have a second distinct biological function. But, until now, it was not understood how or why this second function could co-exist within the enzyme.

NFCR Scientists Xiang Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D. at The Scripps Research Institute recently published results in the prestigious journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology that confirm that this team of scientists has finally solved the mystery for at least one of these ancient enzymes, Tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase (TrpRS). The first function of TrpRS is to engage its specific building block, tryptophan (Trp), in the construction of proteins. But TrpRS has a second function: nearly ten years ago, Dr. Schimmel discovered that this enzyme also inhibits the formation of new blood vessels. The mystery of how TrpRS can play two roles—building proteins and inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels – remained unsolved until now.

As a result of extensive research funded by NFCR, the Yang and Schimmel research team determined that the building block, Trp, was that elusive key. Trp is contained in a molecule that is critical to angiogenesis, the forming of new blood vessels which cancer cells use to fuel their growth.

However, when Trp is bound by a specific part of TrpRS, this binding inhibits the Trp-containing molecule from forming new blood vessels. “The inhibition of blood vessels is a key component in combating many diseases. This discovery suggests that, because TrpRS can inhibit blood vessel formation, it will also help combat cancer,” said Dr. Xiang Lei Yang.

“This discovery may lead to the development of new anti-angiogenesis treatments, which have proved to be so effective in keeping cancer from growing and spreading,” said Dr. Michael Wang, Chief Science Officer of NFCR.

“Now that we have a clear picture of how fragments of TrpRS inhibit new blood vessel formation, we can begin to develop novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer that depend on new vessel formation,” said Dr. Schimmel.

“NFCR is very proud that Dr. Yang, Dr. Schimmel, and their team at the Scripps Research Institute have solved this mystery,” said Franklin C. Salisbury, Jr., President of NFCR. “When research reveals the mechanism of how a protein works, doors will open to a new understanding of that protein and reveal new therapeutic potential that ultimately can help cancer patients.”

About NFCR

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a leading cancer research charity dedicated to funding cancer research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for cancer. NFCR promotes and facilitates collaboration among scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery from bench to bedside. NFCR is committed to Research for a Cure – cures for all types of cancer. For more information, visit http://www.NFCR.org or call (800) 321-CURE (2873).

Media Contact:

Silas Deane
(615) 319-6007
sdeane(at)nfcr.org

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Silas Deane
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