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Electrical Control of Cancer Cell Growth Discovered
Sep 04, 2015

The molecular switches regulating human cell growth do a great job of replacing cells that die during the course of a lifetime. But when they misfire, life-threatening cancers can occur. Research led by scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UT Health) has revealed a new electrical mechanism that can control these switches.

  • The research focused on a molecular switch called K-Ras. Mutated versions of K-Ras are found in a number of cancers and these mutations lock the K-Ras switch in the on position.
  • When K-Ras is locked in the on position, it drives cell division, which leads to the production of a cancer.
  • The scientists have identified a completely new molecular mechanism that further enhances the activity of K-Ras.
  • The study focused on the tiny electrical charges that all cells carry.
  • Scientists have shown that the electrical potential (charge) that a cell carries is inversely proportional to the strength of a K-Ras signal.
  • With the aid of a high-powered electron microscope, the investigators observed that certain lipid molecules in the plasma membrane respond to an electrical charge, which in turn amplifies the output of the K-Ras signaling circuit. This is exactly like a transistor in an electronic circuit board.
  • Initial work was done with human and animal cells and findings were subsequently confirmed in a fruit fly model.

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