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A New Method of Attack Against Cancer: Old Age

October 15, 2013 | Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School believe it may be possible to stop tumor cells from proliferating by teaching them how to age again. Dr. Hong Zhang and colleagues studied the expression of the SMURF2 gene, which encodes a protein that plays a role in cellular senscence, in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), a type of cancer particularly prevalent among the elderly. The researchers found not only that tumor samples in DLBCL cases were likely to have sharply reduced levels of the SMURF2 protein, but also that cases with lower SMURF2 gene activity had worse survival rates. Low levels of the SMURF2 protein were already known to correlate with abnormal cellular aging, but it now appears that they also increase the expression of the oncogene c-Myc, accelerating cell division. This deadly combination leads to cancer cells that replicate faster and longer. Dr. Zhang suggests that restoring SMURF2 expression might slow the formation of lymphomas, making such a pathway an effective supplement to current DLBCL treatments. It remains to be seen whether other cancers incorporate the same pathway. Nature Communications

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