(Blacksburg, June 18, 1998) -- Johnson & Johnson Corp. and the Janssen Research Foundation have awarded a team of Virginia Tech biologists an $84,000 grant to pursue new discoveries regarding the chemistry that initiates cell differentiation, the point in the development of a multicellular organism at which cells become specialized for particular functions.
Results of the research by biology professor Charles Rutherford, Reyna Favis, research assistant professor, and Ian McCaffery, research associate, has the potential to become the backbone of gene therapy for cancer. "Dr. Rutherford's research is on the brink of a very interesting discovery in cancer biology, to identify critical points in signal transduction where there is the possibility for therapeutic intervention," explained Richard Connors, principal scientist for oncology and endocrinology research with the Janssen Research Foundation.
Cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells, and continue to multiply, or proliferate. Whereas normal cells receive molecular information that stops cell proliferation and starts cell differentiation, in the cancer cell the signals are either not present or not received.
Those molecules that are involved in the transition point between proliferation and cell differentiation are of particular interest with respect to the formation of a cancer cell, Rutherford explains. By using Dictyostelium, a type of slime mold widely used as a model system in the study of cell differentiation because of its similarity to human cell function at this level, Rutherford's research group discovered that a protein called Replication Protein A (RPA) acts not only in cell proliferation, but also is a regulator of cell differentiation. Because most anticancer drugs inhibit cell division by interfering with either DNA synthesis or repair, RPA is a potential target for therapeutic intervention.