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Advances in Health and Medicine

Protein May Save Dying Cells


Necrosis—the premature death of cells in living tissue—was long thought to be chaotic and irreversible, until two Pitt scientists found a protein that could halt and control the process.

While conducting an experiment involving proteins in worms, professor Cliff Luke found that more worms than usual were dying. He subsequently determined the worms had been modified to be deficient in a protein called SRP-6.

SRP-6 is part of a family of proteins called serpins, key regulatory molecules that contribute to blood cell coagulation, inflammation, tumor growth, and cell death. In particular, SRP-6 targets the lysosome, the digestive center of cells.

Serpin proteins are critical, professor Gary Silverman explains. “We know that patients who have a certain type of skin cancer, those whose tumors express a lot of intracellular proteins, don’t do as well.”

Luke and Silverman hope they can harness SRP-6 to prevent the degeneration of neural cells that cause Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, or even direct the protein to kill cancer cells.