SINGAPORE: Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered a previously unknown mechanism of cancer formation, the understanding of which may lead to more effective treatment, the university said on Thursday (Jan 14).
The findings of the study, which involved 125 liver cancer patients, concern a process called RNA editing.
DNA in cells is transcribed into RNA before being translated into proteins that play particular roles. Sometimes the RNA is "edited" before the final translation, resulting in a different protein product, explained NUS.
The study looked at the RNA encoding a protein called COPA, which influences the development of cancers of the liver, oesophagus, stomach and breast.
The research team examined cancerous liver tissues to find out whether the RNA transcribed from the COPA gene was edited.
They found that any given cell contains a mix of both edited and unedited versions of COPA.
"When the unedited or 'wild type' COPA is predominant, the cell is more likely to become cancerous," said NUS.
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Conversely, when edited COPA is predominant, it is thought to suppress a particular "signalling pathway".
"When this pathway gets out of control, it triggers excessive cell multiplication which can lead to cancer," said NUS.
The research team is now trying to find a way to boost the natural RNA editing mechanisms in cancerous cells to "tip the balance" in favour of the edited version, thereby suppressing the cancer, said the university.
The findings of the research team, which is led by Dr Polly Leilei Chen from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, were published in the Journal of Hepatology in July 2020.