Study: Cancer-suppressing protein fades with age

A protein that helps suppress oral and other cancers diminishes in skin and mouth epithelial cells as the human body ages, according to a study in the journal Aging Cell (July 1, 2015).

This finding may lead to treatments to prevent the development of cancer in these cells.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry studied p53, a tumor suppressor protein. As fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) age and stop dividing, p53 accumulates in large quantities, according to previous studies. This accumulation of p53 may prevent cells from developing into tumors, researchers believe.

The UCLA researchers found that the level of p53 in epithelial cells lining the skin and the mouth was reduced, rather than enhanced when those cells age. As epithelial cells have a set amount of p53, they have a difficult time maintaining the integrity of their genetic material when they encounter carcinogens, which allows cancer to develop.

"Looking at ways to maintain levels of p53 as one ages may provide a therapeutic clue to preventing cancer development," stated No-Hee Park, DMD, PhD, dean of the dental school, in a press release.

"Inasmuch as approximately 90% of human cancers are originated from epithelial cells, we suspect this may have to do with the increased incidences of skin and oral cancers in elderly patients," stated Reuben Kim, DDS, PhD, an associate professor at the dental school.

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