WEDNESDAY, April 13 , 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A little-known protein called Fra-1 appears to control the malignancy of brain cancer cells and could be a new target for drugs that fight a wide range of tumors, researchers say.
"This protein seems to be important in how cells acquire malignant characteristics and how they spread to healthy tissue. It is very powerful and may be an attractive target for anti-cancer therapy," Dr. Waldemar Debinski, director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.
According to the study, published in the current issue of the journal Molecular Cancer Research, Fra-1 is also involved in late-stage breast, colon, thyroid and skin cancers. That means any treatment targeting Fra-1 might be used to treat many kinds of cancers.
Debinski and colleagues identified the link between Fra-1 and brain cancer cells while doing research on the growth and spread of glioblastomas, the most common form of deadly brain tumors. They initially checked for levels of a protein they believed was involved in this process but found only low levels of the protein. But during this search they discovered high levels of a second protein, Fra-1, in brain tumor cells.
"We were very surprised when we saw it for the first time. We had to learn more about Fra-1 because it is not a widely studied biological factor," Debinski said.
The Wake Forest team found that Fra-1 makes the brain tumor cells more elongated, which may make it easier for them to infiltrate healthy tissue. Fra-1 also enables brain tumors to develop their own blood supply.
Finally, the investigators also found that, when supplied with Fra-1, non-tumor forming cells started producing tumors. And when Fra-1 was eliminated from tumor-producing cells, those cells stopped forming tumors.
More than 50 different genes seem to be affected by Fra-1, the researchers said. This suggests the protein may have a much broader impact than suggested by this initial study.
The Brain Tumor Society has more about brain tumors.