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Scientific Discovery Opens New Possibilities for Cancer and Fibrosis Treatment

/ May 30, 2017 /

As statistics on life-threatening diseases such as cancer rise, the need to find a cure is as pressing as ever. This discovery is likely to ease the tension and mark a step closer to progress for medical researchers and doctors everywhere. Researchers from the University of Turku Centre for Biotechnology have uncovered a relationship between a cellular fuel sensor and the regulation of cells and their contact with the surroundings.

What is AMPK?

AMPK is a cellular fuel sensor that controls energy processes in the cells. To put it simply, when an activity causes cells to use energy, it activates AMPK so that the enzyme can regulate bodily functions to keep the body stable. This can be easily illustrated by seeing how AMPK works when one exercises. During exercise, AMPK increases blood supply and glucose, ensuring that the muscles don’t get cramped.

Recent findings show that AMPK is also responsible for controlling integrin function and the production of extracellular matrix. Extracellular matrix is a meshwork of different proteins that make up the space between the cells of human tissues. The cells are connected to the extracellular matrix through protein complexes called adhesions. Integrins are the main proteins that are part of the adhesions. They link the cytoskeleton with its environment. In the absence of the fuel sensor AMPK, integrins are activated, which increases their adhesion and matrix production. This increase is likely to create complications within the cells and the body, causing diseases. Understanding these roles, researchers can enable AMPK to regulate the contact of cells within their immediate environment.

What Does This Mean?

This discovery opens up new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of cancer, fibrosis and cardiovascular diseases. Since AMPK functions as a metabolic master switch, it can be used as a focal point to understand excessive matrix formation and thereby, treat diseases such as cancer that arise due to this. What looks like a small discovery is a significant finding for medical experts. Metformin is a cheap and commonly used drug that is prescribed to control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. The drug works by activating the AMPK sensor, which inhibits stimulation of glucose uptake, controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. This process can be applied to cancerous and fibrotic tissues, successfully treating the disease and increasing the lifespan of cancer and fibrosis patients.

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