Cancer Research UK grant awarded to investigate Nessieїs impact on cancer cells

Cancer Research UK

CANCER Research UK has awarded over £45,000 to Dr Brian McHugh from the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh for him to carry out research into Nessie, a new protein, and investigate how it impacts on cancer cells.

Most cells are inherently ‘sticky’ as they have surface receptors called integrins that enable cells to stick to one another and to their surroundings. Healthy cells stay where they are, communicate with each other, and play a specific role determined by their ‘parent cell’, their environment and the signals they receive.

Alterations in integrins are common in cancer and can increase the ability of cancers to invade neighbouring tissues and to spread to other parts of the body.

A family of proteins, the Ras family, can control integrin activity and one member of the Ras family, H-Ras, is one of the most commonly mutated proteins in cancer and this suppresses integrin function - making cells ‘unsticky’.

Dr McHugh, a British Heart Foundation Junior Fellow, and the team he works with have found a new protein, which they called Nessie. So called because it’s a large protein, which sits in an internal cell structure called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and it snakes in and out of the membrane of the ER 24 times.

Their research has shown that Nessie can reverse the suppression of integrin function by H-Ras and may stop the spread of cancer by switching the ‘stickiness’ of the cells back on.

They have also found that the production of Nessie is often suppressed in cancer cells.

Dr McHugh says: “This grant from Cancer Research UK will enable us to further investigate the function of Nessie in normal cells and find out what happens when Nessie is put back into “unsticky” cancer cells that don’t have Nessie.

“Understanding more about Nessie might provide leads for the development of new cancer treatments for patients with breast, lung and stomach cancer”. A spokesperson from the University of Edinburgh says: “We welcome this award from Cancer Research UK, which will allow our researcher to push forward the understanding of the underlying causes of cancer."