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New study suggests cholesterol may have a role in fighting cancer


Canadian researchers say that manipulating cholesterol-binding proteins called ORPs may slow or stop the growth of cancer cells.

Scientists believe ORPs bind and transport cholesterol inside cells. At Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, four researchers were studying that process when they discovered that genetic changes made to the protein had interfered with ORPs’ ability to bind to PI4P, a lipid or fat that can accelerate cell growth.

Chris Beh, an associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and co-author of the study, said cancer cells require ORPs to survive. However, previous studies have shown that a new class of natural compounds that look like steroids or cholesterol can kill a broad spectrum of different cancer cells.

In the current study, Beh and his colleagues found that genetic changes to the ORPs blocked their ability to bind cholesterol, but didn’t stop them from functioning. The altered ORPs activated other regulator proteins, which trigger a variety of cellular processes that stimulate cell growth.

“Given that uncontrolled cell growth is a key feature of cancer, this means gaining a better understanding of the true purpose of cholesterol-binding within cells could be important in cancer treatment,” he said.

Beh said his team will now try to learn which specific proteins respond to ORP activation and how and under what circumstances cholesterol will inhibit their activation.