For many decades, it has been known that a human protein, p53, has played a significant role in fighting cancer. However, researchers at UCSD have found that a derivative of this protein, may actually enhance cancer growth in other situations. The p53 protein is involved in the regulation of PUMA (p53 up-regulated modulator of apoptosis), another protein which is found in the mitochondria of the human cell. The researchers have found that PUMA can actually switch the energy-efficient process of oxidative phosphorylation, to the process of glycolysis, which can help cancer growth metabolism. p53 on its own can activate DNA repair and initiate apoptosis (programmed cell death) when needed to destroy cancer cells.
Professor Xu, the lead researcher of this study which lasted over four years, stated, "The widely accepted idea is that p53 suppresses cancer, but in our study we would argue against that. In some cancers it would have the opposite effect by promoting cancer." The research by the Xu Lab focused on liver cancer and may have implications for many other human cancer types. This might cause disruptions within current cancer research as many therapies are designed to enhance p53 function, as this could instead have a negative consequence.