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Eleonora Leucci - KU Leuven: LncRNAs as modulators of protein synthesis rewiring in cancer


2017 - Cancer cells are characterized by the capacity to divide relentlessly. To growth and divide, cancer and normal cells need to reach a critical mass, a goal that is achieved through the process of protein synthesis. It is not surprising therefore that changes in protein synthesis occur in the cell during malignant transformation, many of which are causative of cancer. For this reason, a lot of efforts have been made in the clinic to develop drugs that target this process for cancer treatment. Unfortunately, such an approach is not cancer-specific and also harms normal cells, a problem that is the leading cause of therapeutic toxicity. Lately, it was shown that the portion of the genome that was thought not to contain any functional gene, the so called “Junk DNA”, produces instead a large number of molecules, called Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNA). A substantial portion of lncRNAs associates with the protein synthesis machinery and could have regulatory roles. Moreover, they are often selectively expressed by specific cells and/or cancer cell populations. The aim of the project is to identify lncRNAs that regulate protein synthesis specifically in cancer cells and to use them as therapeutic targets. This would allow us to target protein synthesis in a cancer-specific way leaving normal cells unharmed and therefore reducing the toxicity for the patients.

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