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Targeting protein could hold cancer fight key

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Scientists believe that by targeting a particular protein they may have found a new approach to destroying hard-to-kill cancers.

The kinase enzyme called STK33 does not trigger cancer but it does appear to be vital for the survival of some treatment-resistant tumours. The technique is the latest in a number of promising cancer targets and laboratory tests that suggest suppressing STK33 may work against many types of the disease.

‘The beauty of the strategy is that it would take only 50 to 70% knockdown of STK33 to kill a cancer cell. It relies on a unique frailty of the cancer cell that normal cells don’t have,’ said Dr Gary Gilliland, one of the study leaders from Harvard Medical School.

Scientists focused on leukaemias, lung and pancreatic cancers, which are known to be hard to treat. The diseases are all driven by a defect in the gene called KRAS. Researchers at Harvard Medical School used a method known as RNA interference to investigate the effect of 1,000 human genes on eight cancer cell lines. Small bits of genetic material were used to block protein-making machinery.

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