Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the Nov. 15 issue of Cancer Research that they have discovered a naturally occurring protein in the body that inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer by forcing cancer cells to eat themselves until they die.
Senior author of the research was Naoto T. Ueno, M.D., Ph.D. associate professor of breast medical oncology. Ueno says that presence of this protein, known as PEA-15, is also an independent indicator of a woman’s prospects for surviving ovarian cancer. This laboratory's analysis of ovarian cancer tumors from 395 women showed those with high levels of PEA-15 had a median survival time of 50.2 months compared with 33.5 months for women with low levels of the protein in their tumors.
“These findings provide a foundation for developing a PEA-15 targeted approach for ovarian cancer,” Ueno said. It should also be useful research for later development of a novel test that can predict patient outcomes for those with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer kills about 15,000 women in the United States annually, and is notoriously hard to diagnose in its early stages, when it is also most optimal to treat.
First author Dr. Chandra Bartholomeusz did a series of experiments that showed how high levels of PEA-15 inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer cells by killing cells via autophagy, which means "self-cannibalization." Autophagy kills when a cell entraps parts of its cytoplasm in membranes and digests the contents, leaving a cavity. When this goes on long enough, the cell essentially eats itself until it dies, its cytoplasm riddled with cavities.
Let's hope that further research on PEA-15 proves that it can be the useful predictor and possible future therapy for ovarian cancer that it now appears to be.