Research into the treatment of gynaecological cancers and the regulation of stem cell growth

Tumours consist of a mix of cancerous cells that have mutations (changes) that cause cancer together with normal cells, including cells that are also found in the blood stream called macrophages.

The majority of early tumours are probably destroyed by our immune system but the tumours that survive and grow may be those that can beat our immune system. There is now good reason to believe that the macrophages that are located within established tumours may be helping the tumour to grow and to spread.

Imatinib and dasatinib are recently developed drugs that are highly successful in treating chronic myeloid leukaemia. Dr Nick Dibb’s group were aware that the Abl protein, which is the target of these drugs in leukaemia, has a similar structure to another protein called FMS. FMS is important for the production of macrophages and related bone-cells called osteoclasts, which have importants roles in the immune defence and the regulation of bone growth, but may be somehow subverted for the spread of cancers in the body. They used samples from patients to show that macrophages that are associated with ovarian tumours can be killed by either imatinib or dasatinib in laboratory conditions. The reason why these drugs killed the macrophages is probably because they target FMS so we are now developing better drug and delivery systems before starting clinical trials.

MicroRNAs are made by a newly discovered and very large family of genes that regulate how other genes work. There is a great deal of interest in microRNAs at the IRDB because it is likely that microRNAs will help to regulate the biochemistry that underlies human growth and development. In particular would like to know whether conditions such as premature labour or cancer might in part be caused by defects in the proper functioning of microRNAs. Currently Nick’s group is collaborating with Dr Wei Cui in order to understand the role of microRNAs for the growth and development of embryonic stem cells, whilst other groups at the IRDB are looking at the role of microRNAs in pregnancy and labour.

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