Turning the ‘switch’ off to cancer cell growth

When a cell grows and divides – as happens in a growing child but also in cancer – the cell needs to make millions of proteins. Making that many proteins in a short amount of time is an incredible task for the cell! 

The first thing a cell does before starting to grow is to check to see that it can make enough ribosomes to support the production of the proteins that it needs to grow and divide. 

CHRIM researcher, Dr. Michael Charette, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Brandon University, and his lab are interested in figuring out how cells “turn on” the assembly line that creates ribosomes when the cell decides to grow and needs more ribosomes to make proteins.

In childhood growth and development, we know that the “switch” to turn on the ribosome assembly line is turned off once growth is complete.

In cancer,  the “switch” is “stuck” in the on position such that ribosomes are being assembled all the time in order to satisfy the run-away growth of cancer cells.

Dr. Michael Charette

Research from their lab suggests that one of the switches that “turns on” ribosome assembly is called the casein kinase CK2.

When extra casein kinase CK2 is put in cells, they grow faster and appear to make more ribosomes. When casein kinase CK2 is removed from cells, they stop growing and stop making ribosomes. The next step is to figure out how casein kinase CK2 works as a “switch” in turning on ribosome assembly.