Why do cancer cells need the MTH1 protein for growing and spreading throughout the body?

A new study lead by scientists from the Helleday laboratory at Karolinska Institutet together with colleagues from Stockholms University and the Heinrich-Heine University in Duesseldorf have now shed light on that question.

A new study lead by scientists from the Helleday laboratory at Karolinska Institutet together with colleagues from Stockholms University and the Heinrich-Heine University in Duesseldorf have now shed light on that question.

Since a break-through discovery from the Helleday laboratory two years ago, it has been known that inhibition of the MTH1 protein kills specifically cancer cells while normal cells in the body are unaffected.

But what exactly makes cancer cells so dependent on the MTH1 protein? This question has now been addressed in a new article published in the journal of Cancer research. Cancer cells divide very fast, like an engine running on maximal speed. With that speed comes, however, wear-and-tear against which the cancer cell needs to protect itself. Amongst others, the cancer cell produces large amounts of oxygen radicals (otherwise known to cause aging and wrinkles) which constantly cause damage. The scientists involved in the study found that this excessive amount of oxygen radicals made the cancer cells dependent on the MTH1 protein. This knowledge will help to improve drugs that block MTH1 as well as to identify cancer diseases which will especially profit from a therapy with MTH1 blockers.

“It feels great to understand in more detail why the cancer cells need MTH1”says Lars Bräutigam, the leading scientist of the article, and adds that “the excessive amounts of oxygen radical production are not only found in cancer but also in other diseases like Alzheimer’s or HIV so MTH1 blockers might be of use in those major health issues as well”.

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