A team of Kiwi researchers have won funding from a world-renowned charity to help tackle a mysterious protein that conspires against treatment for some forms of cancer.
The scientists, from Massey University in Palmerston North, will work alongside US molecular biologist Professor Reuben Harris in their three-year study, which was among just two dozen chosen by the Worldwide Cancer Organisation for a $430,000 grant.
Professor Harris, of the University of Minnesota, is credited with having discovered a new role for this enzyme called APOBEC3B, which has been shown to cause DNA in tumour cells to mutate during treatment for breast, cervical, bladder, lung, head and neck cancers.
"This leads to resistance against drug and radiation therapies and poorer survival rates among patients affected by it," said Dr Vyacheslav Filichev, who is leading the research alongside colleagues Dr Elena Harjes and Professor Geoff Jameson.
"Interestingly, the enzyme that's affected is normally an important part of our immune system because it protects us from foreign DNA and viruses."
APOBEC3B, which is mainly present in the nucleus, is believed to be the factor responsible for mutating the human DNA in cancer cells.
"So, instead of protecting us, this enzyme mutates the DNA in cancer cells so that they become resistant to therapy," he said.
"Our ultimate hope is to create a new drug that could inhibit the undesirable mutations of DNA in cancer cells and stop cancer progression, allowing existing therapies to retain their efficacy."
Professor Harris will test the best inhibitors in cancer cells.
Dr Filichev said it was an honour to have been awarded funding from the UK-based Worldwide Cancer Research Fund.
He understood his grant application was among just around 25 picked from more than 600.
He was also appreciative of funding from the New Zealand Health Research Council, as well as another grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand which enabled Professor Harris to travel to the country.
• The enzyme APOBEC3B is normally an important part of our immune system because it protects us from foreign DNA and viruses.
• But it has been shown to cause DNA in tumour cells to mutate during treatment for breast, cervical, bladder, lung, head and neck cancers.
• This leads to resistance against drug and radiation therapies and poorer survival rates among patients.