New cell findings have implications for cancer, immune disorders

September 02, 2015

In studying that blood sample, the scientists noticed that the blood??s antibodies reacted with an unusual part of the cell. Dr. Fritzler and his laboratory immediately set out to unravel the puzzle of what this part of the cell is, and what it does. They were able to identify a previously undiscovered gene which makes the protein components of this never-identified-before structure in the cell: GW bodies.

???My colleagues and I kept pursuing the scientific pathway because it was so interesting. But we worried in the early stages that because no one had ever seen this before, maybe we were interpreting the data wrong,??? says Dr. Fritzler, Arthritis Society Chair in Rheumatic Disease. ???The GW bodies and their unusual proteins play an important role in a new pathway that controls or ???silences?? genes within the cell. This new realm of gene silencing has become one of the hottest areas in developing new avenues for therapies aimed at a variety of diseases.???

The University of Calgary team??s findings are being published in the December edition of the prestigious international journal Nature Cell Biology. In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Florida, the scientists have found that these unique proteins are particularly prevalent in nerve tissues and breast cancer cells.

???The next step is to manipulate these proteins in breast cancer cells,??? says Theophany Eystathioy, PhD, a research associate in Dr. Fritzler??s laboratory and co-author of the paper. ???The drugs presently being used to manipulate breast cancer genes are too wide-ranging in their approach. We plan to use this new knowledge to attack breast cancer where it first begins ?? within the genetic code housed in the cell itself.???

These findings contribute to a growing body of international research focused on how genes are controlled within the cell by microRNA which serve as switches to turn genes on and off. ???About 30% of genes appear to be regulated by microRNA,??? says Dr. Fritzler. ???That is why microRNA is such a key area of investigation around the globe today.???

???We hope that this discovery will help us to develop better diagnostic tools, and new treatments for cancer and immune disorders,??? says Theophany Eystathioy, PhD. Since this research first began, the team has identified more than 100 patients with the same antibodies. ???Many of these people have neurological problems just like that very first patient did,??? says Dr. Fritzler. He and colleagues have also published clinical research identifying the neurological features of people with this abnormal antibody.

The Arthritis Society, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (Alberta / NWT Chapter), and an anonymous donor provide funding support for this research. Dr. Fritzler is a member of the Alberta Bone and Joint Institute at the U of C Faculty of Medicine / Calgary Health Region.