Florida State researchers are developing a new way to fight cancer through a virus protein recently discovered and named KicGas.
Various viral infections are the cause of about 15% of all cancer cases. They can cause everything from cervical cancer, to lung cancer, to liver cancer, and more. What FSU scientists have discovered is a way to combat particular viruses, known as DNA viruses, which work by implanting their own DNA into the host cells DNA strands and making the host cell replicate the DNA for them. In addition to certain types of cancer, DNA viruses are responsible for causing diseases such as Karposi’s sarcoma, smallpox, chickenpox, and herpes.
Scientists have previously discovered that there is a protein, called cGas, in our cells which detects these types of viruses and essentially tells the immune system to attack the virus. But some viruses have evolved a way around our defenses. These viruses are equipped with a protein called KicGas, which suppresses our cGas, and thus suppresses the body’s immune system response. It is this protein that Fanxiu Zhu, who is the FSU Margaret and Mary Pfeiffer Endowed Professor for Cancer Research has learned to manipulate, alongside FSU Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Hong Li, and various teams of scientists both in the United States and Germany.
By manipulating the levels of KicGas, the scientists are able to either tone down or amplify the body’s immune system response. Essentially, with the inhibitor KicGas turned off, the body will be able to detect and destroy DNA viruses quicker and more effectively. This will greatly reduce the number of viral infections and will prevent the spread of “tumor viruses.” Tumor viruses, a term used for many cancer causing viruses, include hepatitis B virus (which causes millions of cases of liver cancer worldwide), Epstein-Barr virus (which increases risk of developing nasal cancer and certain types of lymphomas), and human papilloma virus (which can be spread through touch and is a major cause of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women worldwide).
There is still much work to be done before any treatment can be created, as the scientists are not fully aware of how the inhibitor works. To figure this out, Professor Hong Li is working on building a 3D model to help better understand the chemical interaction between cGas and its inhibitor, KicGas. Perhaps after this is finished, they can move into real world application.
The hope is to move beyond vaccines, which we already have for some of these viruses. The problem with vaccines is that a person must have the vaccine before they come into contact with the virus, which can be rather tricky considering how numerous and varied viruses can be. With further development, researchers want to be able to battle these cancer causing viruses after exposure has already happened, creating more effective chemotherapy that targets the KicGas protein. This would improve patient outcomes for multiple types of cancer and autoimmune diseases, potentially saving millions of people a year.
This is only a small step, but it is an incredibly important one, and one which deals a serious blow in the fight against cancer.
ROBERT COCANOUGHER / Editor in Chief