Tuesday, March 20, 2012

UC Merced Researchers Discover Protein Critical for Tissue Regeneration


A normal planarian, left, and
a planarian with TOR disabled.
A flatworm known for its ability to regenerate cells is shedding more light on how cancer could be treated and how regenerative medicine could better target diseases, according to researchers at the University of California, Merced.

In research published online in the Journal of Cell Science, biology Professor NĂ©stor Oviedo has shown that signaling by a protein called Target of Rapamycin (TOR) — found in humans and most other mammals — is crucial for planaria’s unique tissue regeneration. Disabling the protein prevents the flatworm’s regrowth, a sign that disabling it in abnormal cells could prevent the growth of a cancer.

"It's a new model in which we can study stem cell behavior by manipulating the signaling pathways," Oviedo said.

Researchers have recognized that the TOR protein plays a role in cancer, aging and degenerative diseases, but they haven't figured out how it works.

Oviedo’s lab is approaching this question using tiny flatworms known as planaria. Long relegated as a scientific oddity, the planarian is now among the species that could be crucial in understanding the role of stem cells. The worm’s ability to repair itself is unparalleled, and its secrets could help combat cancer and degenerative diseases.