University of Lethbridge researchers hope to uncover mysteries of deadly Glioblastoma

By Lara Fominoff @LaraFominoff on Twitter
January 12, 2019 - 8:00am

LETHBRIGE - It's a particularly aggressive and deadly form of cancer. The same disease that took the lives of the Tragically Hip's Gord Downie, US Senator John McCain and Actress and Singer Ethel Merman.

Glioblastoma (GBM) is a type of brain cancer with a survival rate of only about 15 months. Even after chemotherapy, removal of the tumour and radiation therapy, not much seems to stop the cancer cells from evading death.

“We are trying to understand how these cancer cells bypass cell-death pathways,” explains Dr. Nehal Thakor, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Campus Alberta Innovation Chair of Synthetic Biology and RNA-based Systems.

His team of University of Lethbridge researchers is trying to uncover what makes GBM so deadly, with the hope that their results could lead to new therapeutic interventions in the future.

“Why are they so good at surviving chemotherapy and radiation? It turns out that one of the things they’re really good at doing is translating proteins and the wrong types of proteins when they’re not supposed to,” says Dr. Joe Ross, a postdoctoral fellow in Thakor’s lab.

According to the U of L, the team is focusing on mRNA, or messenger RNA, and:

“the factors that regulate translation of mRNAS that are involved in cell survival mechanisms. Messenger RNA carries genetic information from DNA to the ribosome, the part of the cell in charge of protein synthesis that allows important bodily functions to be carried out.”

Thakor and his team are looking specifically at a protein called eIF5B, which is important for the translation of several proteins that all play anti-death roles.

“The eIF5B protein has been shown to play a role in normal translation, but when cancer cells hijack normal processes and make them do abnormal things, or make to much of certain proteins, that can cause the cells to evade apoptosis, or programmed cell death,” says master’s student Kamiko Bressler. “Glioblastoma is especially good at that, which is why it’s so hard to treat.”

The team is also made up of Mikayla Fredriksen, Divya Sharma, Keiran Vanden Dungen and Nirujah Balasingam.

Their study on the topic, called “Eukaryotic initiation factor 5B (eIF5B) provides a critical cell survival switch to glioblastoma cells via regulation of apoptosis,” will be published in the “Cell Death and Disease Journal.

Now, the team is working on whether brain cells can survive without the eIF5B protein. They hope that without that specific protein, they could treat not only Glioblastoma, but possibly other cancers.

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