NUS finding may lead to new cervical cancer treatments

A new finding by scientists from the National University of Singapore(NUS) could pave the way for more targeted treatment of cervical cancer.

The team from the NUS Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) found new molecular interactions involved in the development of tumours in cervical cancer.

They found that the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, interacts with a protein called EDD1 to destabilise a tumour suppressor protein, which stops the formation of tumours.

The three-year study also showed that an increase in a tumour suppressor protein called TIP60, found in the human body, could prevent the growth of cancer cells.

The protein acts as a "guardian of the cell" against cancerous growth, said Assistant Professor Sudhakar Jha, principal investigator at CSI Singapore, who was involved in the study.

The discovery is an exciting one, he says, as understanding the interactions is a critical first step towards coming up with treatments to target HPV-induced cancers.

Current treatment methods such as surgery and chemotherapy come with their limitations, he noted. "The problem with chemotherapy is that it kills not just the cancer cells but also other normal cells," said Prof Jha.

As for using surgery to remove tumours, by the time the tumours appear, it usually means that the cancer cells have already spread from the cervix to other parts of the body.

The roles of EDD1 and TIP60 had not been well explored in previous studies and this is the first to show how the protein EDD1 interacts with TIP60.

While still in its early stages, the finding could help develop treatments to either restore the tumour suppressor protein to normal levels or target the EDD1 protein. In patients with cervical cancer, the levels of TIP60 are 80 per cent lower than normal levels.

According to the World Health Organisation's World Cancer Report 2014, virus-causing cancers or oncoviruses make up about 12 per cent of new cancer cases annually. Cervical cancer accounts for about 8 per cent of all cancer cases worldwide and in Singapore it is the 10th-most common cancer among women.

Moving forward, Prof Jha said that his team will continue to look more closely at TIP60 levels using clinical samples and find out how regulating its levels could lead to possible treatments in the future.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline NUS finding may lead to new cervical cancer treatments. Subscribe