Yeasts are valuable as both tools and allies in the life sciences. We saw how yeast taught Ann Arbor researchers about DNA and showed Urbana-Champaign researchers how to save bats from a deadly disease. Now a team at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is learning from yeasts how to slow the onset of another deadly disease, namely cancer.
Professor of cell and developmental biology Lois Weisman (image left, courtesy U-M) studies cell division in various organisms. Because rampant cell division is one of the trademarks of cancer progression, she believes that better understanding the process will give us a foothold to perhaps slow cancer down. Working with research fellow Yui Jin, Weisman studied the cell division of yeast and found that an organelle in yeast cells known as the vacuole is critical to the process. In fact, cell division won’t even start without the proper signal from the vacuole.
"These findings suggest that this may be a 'checkpoint mechanism' that prevents cell-cycle progression if essential organelles aren't present," said Jin (image right, courtesy U-M) in a recent Ann Arbor article. Basically, if the vacuole is removed from a yeast cell, then that cell has no chance of dividing.
Where this research gets really interesting is in the link to human cancer cells. It is well known that the vacuole has a counterpart in animal cells known as the lysosome. Weisman thinks that vacuoles and lysosomes may be similar enough that removing the lysosome will stop cell division in human cells.
"So this research raises the possibility that if the lysosome is similarly required for mammalian cell division, then the discovery of the molecular interconnection between the lysosome and nucleus may provide new insights into treatment of cancer, where cell division becomes a runaway train," Weisman elaborates. In her eyes, stopping the spread of cancer could be as simple as removing or disabling the lysosome.
The work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. For more detailed funding statistics regarding the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, read on with our Funding Statistics and Vendor Show Info report:
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