Targeting the Hsp70-IRE1 complex for cancer therapy

Key Information

Cancer type: 
All Cancers
Research Institution: 
NUIG, Galway
Grant Amount: 
€120,000
Start date: 
October 1, 2010
End date: 
May 31, 2012

Scientific Project Abstract

Every cell in the body has a specific function. When cells get damaged and are unable to work properly anymore, they try to repair themselves. But if they are unable to do so, they can become dangerous for the body as they can turn into cancer cells. Cancer cells are dangerous because instead of doing what they are supposed to do, they constantly grow and produce more cancer cells. They can damage the tissue around them and spread into other parts of the body, where they cause destruction. To prevent damaged cells from turning into cancer cells, the body has developed a mechanism that makes cells, which are potentially dangerous for the body, destroy themselves before they can cause any harm. This form of cell suicide is called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. In other words, cancer cells are supposed to kill themselves because they present a threat to the body but indeed they fail to do so and instead continue to survive although they are harmful for the body. The reason why cancer is so difficult to cure is because cancer cells are very like normal cells and the body's defenses cannot tell that these cells are different.

A major problem with medicine for cancer is that they also kill normal cells in the body making the cancer patient weak or causing them to loose their hair and feel sick. For this reason, the aim of cancer research is to develop medicine that specifically kills cancer cells without harming other cells in the body. The aim of the proposed research project is to find ways to make cells kill themselves if they are dangerous to the body. This can lead to the development of new cancer treatments while leaving healthy cells unharmed. We are interested in a specific protein in the body called Hsp70, which is thought to be involved in protecting cancer cells from cell death. This protein is normally involved in the response of cells to conditions of stress. This response helps cells to deal with stress and protects them from being damaged by the stress. Healthy cells are not usually under stress but cancer cells are often under a lot of stress because they grow very fast and they grow at places in the body where they are not supposed to grow. This means that they are often not supplied with sufficient amounts of nutrients or oxygen. Hsp70 helps cancer cells to deal with this stress and helps them to survive in spite of the stress. We would like to find out exactly how Hsp70 helps cancer cells to survive because if we know how it works, we can develop a way of interfering with its function. If we can block this function of Hsp70, we could stop it helping cancer cells to survive stressful conditions. We hope that without Hsp70 cancer cells won’t be able to deal with the stress any longer and will eventually kill themselves, which would be a way of treating cancer.

For the non-scientist

One-line description: 
Identifying ways to improve cancer treatment by blocking molecules which promote cancer survival
What this project involves: 

The aim of this project is to understand the role of a stress protein called Hsp70 in aiding cancer cell survival and growth. Healthy cells are not usually under stress so Hsp70 is not expressed; however, cancer cells are often under a lot of stress because of their rapid growth and regular nutrient and oxygen deprivation, so Hsp70 is expressed in cancer cells to help them deal with this stress. This study is aimed at elucidating at how Hsp70 helps cancer cells to survive. If we can understand in more detail how this stress protein is working, we may be able to develop a way of interfering with its function to prevent it from helping cancer cells to survive stressful conditions.