( dpa ) - German researchers have discovered a small protein molecule that could play a key role in fighting cancer.
Scientists at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) say the newly-discovered molecule is instrumental in triggering the innate immune response of the fruit fly Drosophila, mice and even humans.
A group of scientists headed by Dr. Michael Boutros of the German DKFZ, collaborating with colleagues of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Strasbourg, discovered a protein named Akirin.
Using the Nobel-prize winning method of RNA interference (RNAi), they switched off individual molecules of the signaling pathway in Drosophila and thus come across this new member: Akirin, meaning "making things clear" in Japanese.
According to the findings, published in the journal Nature Immunology, when the German scientists suppressed Akirin production in the flies' immune cells, these were significantly more susceptible to bacterial infections.
And when they knocked down the protein in all body cells, the fly larvae died in an early stage.
Colleagues at Japan's Osaka University investigated the corresponding mouse Akirin. In mice, too, the protein fulfils the same function as in the fruit fly and in man.
"This signalling pathway plays an important role in inflammations, and inflammations are highly relevant in cancer development," said Dr Boutros. "Therefore, the search is on for small molecules that can inhibit this signaling pathway."
First inhibitors acting against other links in the signaling chain are already being tested in clinical trials.
"The more links of this chain we know, the more possibilities we have to interfere with it," said Boutros explaining the aim of his work.