For more than 100 years, researchers have sought links between inflammation and cancer. Now, a team of scientists studying gastrointestinal cancer in mice presents powerful evidence of a molecular connection between those conditions.
In two experiments, researchers at the University of California, San Diego showed that deactivating a protein called I-kappa-B kinase beta (IKK-beta) inside cells stops cancer progression in its tracks.
IKK-beta normally plays a role in healing. During infection or injury, immune system molecules activate IKK-beta. Once stimulated, this protein keeps cells alive and growing, despite the insult. IKK-beta also promotes inflammation in damaged tissues.
These effects could be a double-edged sword in the presence of carcinogens, says molecular biologist Michael Karin. Before the experiments, he speculated that, by preventing programmed cell death and encouraging inflammation, IKK-beta also promotes the emergence and growth of tumors.