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Opposite effect: Protein widely known to fight tumors also boosts cancer growth

Researchers studying p53, the heralded cancer-fighting ‘guardian of the genome,’ found that the human protein also plays a role in promoting tumors, in addition to suppressing them. They found that the PUMA protein works inside the cell’s mitochondria to switch energy production processes and stimulate cancer growth.

Search for a description of “p53” and it becomes clear that this human protein is widely known for its cancer-fighting benefits, leading to its renown as “the guardian of the genome.”

Scientists at the University of California San Diego have published a new study challenging that description.

Studying the “wild type” version of p53 (WTp53), the form that exists broadly in nature, Jinchul Kim, Lili Yu, Xuemei Fu, Yang Xu and their colleagues found evidence that in certain cases, WTp53 instead plays a role in promoting tumors, rather than suppressing them. This finding explains an established paradox that, whereas p53 is mutated in more than 50 percent of all human cancers, it is not frequently mutated in certain human cancers, such as liver cancer.

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