Beautiful Science

PHOTO: KATHLEEN CARON LAB, UNC

Unmasking a little-studied gene, scientists from the University of North Carolina say they have discovered a potential drug target to treat gastrointestinal cancers.

Their findings about the gene Gpr182 suggest that it could prove a promising avenue for fighting cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. The researchers found that when Gpr182 was suppressed, cellular proliferation tended to increase, suggesting Gpr182 keeps proliferation in check. A mutation that suppresses Gpr182 could lead cells to proliferate a bit more freely, perhaps pointing to a link with cancer.

However, suppressing Gpr182 could be beneficial in some situations.

For example, when the researchers wiped out a mouse's active intestinal stem cell population with radiation - mimicking what happens during chemotherapy or radiation treatment - suppressing Gpr182 unleashed a marked increase in proliferation from the reserve stem cell population. This suggests that it could be a target for therapy to speed up the regeneration of the gut lining after cancer treatment.

The image shows a cross-section of a mouse intestine. Each "petal" on the fringe of the image is a villus - a finger- like projection extending into the lumen (opening) of the small intestine. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe