“Our finding suggests that the same process this protein uses for proliferating cancer could also potentially be used to regrow axons that are damaged in spinal cord injuries or neurological diseases,” said Antonio Iavarone, M.D., associate professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia University Medical Center’s Institute for Cancer Genetics.

The proteins – known as Id proteins - are abundant in the cells of many different types of cancer, including brain, breast cancer and paediatric tumours, and were known to promote tumour growth and aid in the spread of cancer. While searching for ways to attack Id’s cancer-causing properties, Iavarone and Anna Lasorella, M.D. assistant professor of paediatrics and pathology at the Institute for Cancer Genetics, discovered the surprising neuron-healing properties of Id proteins.

Their initial findings are significant for potential cancer therapies. The researchers found that an enzyme inside normal cells - called APC – usually degrades Id proteins soon after they’re produced, but cancerous cells show a very high level of Id proteins. This suggests that re-introducing the APC enzyme into cancer cells could eliminate the proteins and arrest the growth of tumour cells – something that researchers will now investigate.

Iavarone and Lasorella examined the Id protein potential for promoting growth, rather than arresting it. The researchers wanted to use the power of Id proteins to stimulate growth of axons - the structures on neurons responsible for transmitting electrical signals in the brain and spinal cord. But to do that they needed to overcome the problem of the APC enzyme, which degrades the protein in normal cells. So they constructed a “super” Id protein that would resist degradation from the APC enzyme, allowing it to promote axonal growth.

MEDICA.de; Source: Columbia University