UK scientists find cell division 'off switch'

In collaboration with the Press Association

University of Oxford scientists say that they have identified a genetic 'switch' which can turn off the rapid, uncontrolled cell division characteristic of cancer.

The switch involves a type of RNA, a molecule usually involved in creating proteins.

In this case, the RNA regulates a gene called dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) which is closely associated with tumour growth. DHFR produces an enzyme needed by rapidly dividing cells known as thymine and the RNA effectively turns this gene on and off.

"Inhibiting the DHFR gene could help prevent the growth of neoplastic cancerous cells, ordinary cells which develop into tumour cells, such as in prostate cancers," said lead researcher Dr Alexandre Akoulitchev.

"In fact, the first anti-cancer drug, Methotrexate, acts by binding and inhibiting the enzyme produced by this gene." Dr Akoulitchev said that further research into the DHFR gene could one day provide new methods of treatment. The study is published in the journal Nature.