Cancer researchers today announced they have developed a way of sidelining one of the most dangerous “Bad actors” in leukemia. Their approach depends on throwing a molecular wrench into the gears of an important machine that sets genes into motion, enabling cancer cells to proliferate.
“MYB is a dream target in cancer research,” says Vakoc, “Because it’s involved in so many cancers; in leukemia it’s special because we know from previous research that by targeting MYB you can get AML not just to stop growing but actually to regress.” Deactivating MYB in cancer has been a goal of many research labs.
Yali Xu, a Ph.D. student in the Vakoc lab leading the study, discovered how to selectively take MYB out of the picture in leukemia by throwing a molecular wrench into the mechanism that the transcription factor normally activates.
First, the team discovered that MYB activates gene expression by docking at a giant gene-“Co-activation” protein called TFIID. Next, the they found a tiny weak spot on the massive protein.
The team then tricked MYB into binding to short protein fragments, or peptides, that are shaped exactly like the place on TAF12 where MYB binds when it is promoting leukemia.
“It’s a concept we’re now discussing with the pharmaceutical industry. It is going to take lots of work before it can result in a medicine leukemia patients might take. But we’re excited about this new approach, because MYB is such an important player in many cancers and until now has eluded efforts to selectively target it.”