Scientists are trying to find a way to stop the progression a cancer without a cure dubbed ‘NUT midline carcinoma’.
NMC, which affects all age groups, is a rapid-growth disease with an average survival time of four and a half months after diagnosis, making the development of clinical trials for potential therapies or cures for this cancer difficult, to say the least.
But difficult doesn”t mean impossible, and Olaf Wiest, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, is one of a group of collaborators studying the effects of a specific molecule (JQ1) on the trigger that controls the growth of this form of cancer.
Most people are familiar with genetics and the role they play in our height, hair color, and even predisposition to various diseases. “But there is this whole other world called epigenetics that controls which genes are expressed and which aren”t,” says Wiest.
This epigenetic world is made up of three classes of proteins: writers, erasers and readers, collectively the “instruction manual” that tells a gene when to activate and when to cease activation. Writers will create the instruction for the gene while erasers will remove instructions. Readers control the group and issue the start and stop commands for genes to use their instructions.
“The reason NMC is so aggressive is because these cancer cells divide very fast,” says Wiest.
This rapid-growth is caused by the protein BRD4, an epigenetic reader that interacts with another protein called a histone. Their interaction changes the instructions for the gene and keeps the growth trigger permanently activated.
Wiest says that the solution is to block that protein. By disrupting the protein-to-protein interaction, it not only halts the constant growth command, but it also makes the cancer cells forget their instructions thereby making them resemble normal cells.
Research into epigenetic readers, however, is relatively new. There is already a vast amount of information on writers and a lot of interest in erasers in the research community.