Cancer-fight hope in advance through arteries

Local | Carain Yeung 14 Dec 2016

Statins and other cardiovascular drugs may have the potential to act as anti- cancer drugs, a transregional research effort led by the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found.

The discovery originates from research into the mechanism of atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up in arteries, hardening and narrowing them over time. It is a leading cause of stroke and heart diseases.

Previously, risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes have been associated with atherosclerosis, but the mechanism was unknown.

It has been revealed that development of the arterial disease is linked closely to the activity of YAP/TAZ, a protein that binds to DNA and regulates gene expression. It is found in cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels.

The collaboration between CUHK, Tianjin Medical University and the Institute of Cellular and System Medicine in Taiwan found that the activation of YAP/TAZ will lead to plaque formation in the arteries and lead to vascular inflammation, which may eventually progress into atherosclerosis.

Several lipid-lowering drugs can inhibit the expression of YAP/TAZ, the team found in experiments using mice. A total of 640 clinically used drugs were tested and statins, commonly used to control cholesterol, was found to be the most effective inhibitor.

The researchers said the lipid- lowering drugs might help to fight cancer as well. For YAP/TAZ is considered a "cancer gene" since its activation promotes the development of cancer.

Wang Li, a post-doctoral researcher of the school who took part in the study, said the team believes the findings will help develop new treatment options for atherosclerosis and cancer. But the effect of the drugs has only been seen in mice so far.

Research findings have been published in the international scientific journal Nature, and Huang said there is much more follow-up research to come.

"The next step of laboratory study is to have overweight or atherosclerotic animals run on treadmills and see the changes in the YAP/TAZ activities and the outcome before and after exercise," Huang said.

This will help the team to arrive at the theoretical explanation for physical exercise-induced cardiovascular benefits against atherosclerosis.

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