The majority of breast cancers present with an abnormality in the p53 gene, a powerful tumor suppressor. In its absence or if it is damaged, patients have a higher risk of developing the disease or the resulting tumor becoming particularly resistant to treatment.
“Despite decades of research, there had been no satisfactory way to overcome the deleterious effects of p53 loss – until now”, said Sanjay Awasthi, a professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine and research leader. This even raised the interest of the Department of Defense, who awarded him a grant based on his study, “Prevention of Breast Cancer by Haploinsufficiency of RALBP1”.
The P53 gene is called “the guardian of the genome”, as it is essential for regulating cell division and the prevention of tumor formation. “If it is missing the genes that cause cancer, then they become abnormal and essentially cause cancer in a large number of people. About 68 percent of all cancers have an abnormality of this gene and some of those have a complete loss of the gene”.
Dr. Awasthi actually followed in the footsteps of his father, Yogesh C. Awasthi, who was part of the team that started initial work on the project more than 40 years ago. Originally trying to create an enzyme that would defend the body, in time the focus shifted, and Awasthi managed to synthesize a whole new protein for the job.
Recently, he presented his findings: “We showed for the first time that blocking the stress-responsive protein called Rlip (Rlip76 or RALBP1) defeats the deleterious effects of p53 loss more effectively”.
Surprisingly, the drugs that block Rlip have a number of other health benefits that are being tested, including signs that it might reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides. This could open the door to new treatments not only in oncology but also for diabetes or obesity therapies.