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Singapore Scientists First to Uncover Key Protein that Potentially Causes Death of Cancer Cells

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Researchers from A*STAR's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) have become the first to discover and characterize a human protein called Bax-beta, which can potentially cause the death of cancer cells and lead to new approaches in cancer treatment.

The finding is published in the 16 January report of the science journal, Molecular Cell.

Detection of Bax-beta has eluded scientists until now. Said Dr Victor Yu, the Principal Investigator of the research team at IMCB, "Our research findings reveal that Bax-beta protein levels are normally kept at essentially undetectable levels in healthy cells by the protein degradation machine in cells known as the 'proteasomes'. The proteasomes are there to keep the lethal Bax-beta in check. This is exciting - if the proteasome-mediated degradation of Bax-beta could be inhibited specifically in cancer cells, it could cause the harmful cancer cells to go through apoptosis".

Until the discovery of Bax-beta by Dr Yu's team, only one single protein called Bax-alpha has ever been extensively studied in cells. The researchers also found that Bax-beta is able to associate with, and promote, Bax-alpha activation, and that Bax-beta, in its native form, is 100 times more potent than its sibling Bax-alpha in triggering a key step in apoptosis.

The future development of novel compounds that can selectively elevate levels of Bax-beta or stimulate its interaction with Bax-alpha could also lead to new drug approaches to cancer treatment, as these compounds are likely to enhance the apoptotic signals triggered by many conventional cancer drugs, which frequently cause toxic side effects in patients when higher doses of drugs are needed.