Scientists discover new target for anti-cancer drug screening

March 30, 2009

By hammersmith

[Source: ASU News] – Smad4 is one of a suite of Smad proteins that facilitate cell-to-cell communication in all animals. Mutations of these proteins have been linked to numerous diseases, including cancer. Now, Arizona State University scientists Stuart Newfeld and Michael Stinchfield, with collaborators from the University of Padova in Italy, have discovered that Smad4 – thought to be a minor player in the regulation of cellular processes (compared to Smad1, Smad2 and Smad3) – is not minor at all. Their findings were featured on the Jan. 9 cover of the journal Cell.

Over the years, oncologists have found that specific types of cancer, such as those in the pancreas and colon, are frequently associated with abnormalities in Smad4, but not with the other Smads. The small role traditionally assigned to Smad4 led the researchers to wonder how it could be so important in cancer, according to Newfeld, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

With funding from Science Foundation Arizona and Stinchfield’s experiments utilizing the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, Newfeld and his colleagues solved this mystery when they discovered a previously unknown mechanism by which cells regulate Smad4.

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