University of Calgary

Grad student uses baker’s yeast to find new ways to fight cancer

UToday HomeFebruary 27, 2013

By Jennifer Allford

Ola Czyz, a Masters student in biological sciences, works in assistant professor Vanina Zaremberg’s lab. Photo by Riley BrandtOla Czyz, a Masters student in biological sciences, works in assistant professor Vanina Zaremberg’s lab. Photo by Riley BrandtMost cancer therapies target either the DNA or the structure within a cell, but there are promising new therapies that are exploring how to interfere with the lipids that make up the membrane of cancer and other cells, thereby impairing their growth.

Ola Czyz, a Masters student in biological sciences assistant professor Vanina Zaremberg’s lab, has published two papers in the prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry that outline work into anti-tumor lipids (ATLs), drugs that can combat cancerous cells without hurting healthy ones.

“These drugs show promise for the treatment of cancer, but just how and why they work is still unclear,” says Czyz. Using baker’s yeast, which shares some characteristics with cancer cells—both divide and proliferate at a high rate, have similar metabolisms and pathways for sending signals—Czyz looked at how ATLs would work on the membranes of cancer cells.

The researchers found the drugs changed the architecture of the cell membrane and the function of important nutrient transporters.

“The alterations of the membrane allows you to target a lot more inside of the cells instead of just the way that cancer drugs work now where they usually have a single target,” says Czyz. “If you alter the membrane there are so many more things that you are actually changing within the cell that allows you to attack the cells more effectively.”

Czyz, who worked in collaboration with a number of different labs in Canada and Spain, says using ATLs should also be easier on the patient who is receiving treatment.

“Most cancer therapies target fast proliferating cells, so it’s going to be affecting your hair growth, your digestive tract, and your bone marrow—you’re going to have a whole lot of side effects,” she says. “But these drugs are only going to be targeting cancer cells and not those other highly proliferating cells, so they’re going to have fewer side effects.”

The findings are “highly relevant” for the design of new strategies to fight cancer, says Zaremberg. “This gives us the opportunity to test new interesting hypotheses derived from this work and see how these drugs work. It’s very exciting and I am very proud of Ola.”

Read the papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry here and here.


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