News Feature | April 14, 2014

Enzyme Shows Promise For Asthma And Cancer Treatments

By Estel Grace Masangkay

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have identified the enzyme SKG1 as a promising target for asthma therapy and for bolstering effects of certain anti-cancer treatments.

The scientists found that mice without the enzyme were resistant to asthma induced by dust mites. In addition, mice with melanoma and without SKKG1 developed less than half as many lung tumors than mice with the enzyme.

Jonathan Powell, professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said, “If we can develop a drug that blocks the enzyme in a way that mimics what happens when the enzyme is missing, we would not only have a treatment to inhibit asthma, but also a drug that could be used in conjunction with other experimental therapies aimed at helping the immune system fight cancer.”

An SKG1-blocking drug may be useful in combination with other cancer immunotherapies as a booster therapy. SKG1 appears to dial down production of interferon-gamma, a signaling protein that seems to be useful in fighting tumor cells. T cells produce high amounts of interferon-gamma when SKG1 is absent.  Professor Powell and his colleagues examined the enzyme because it works along the same pathway of mTOR, a protein the team previously focused on in their research.

SKG1 is also implicated in the production of T helper 2 cells, which become overactive in asthma and other allergies. This causes inflammation that may lead to asthma and other allergic reaction. Shutting down SKG1 could help block T helper 2 cells-related inflammations. According to Powell, uncovering the various effects of SKG1 is helping alter patients’ immune responses. “We're not suppressing or exacerbating the immune system, we're regulating it… We're regulating it to do exactly what we want it to do,” Professor Powell said.

Research data on SKG1 were described by the scientists online in Nature Immunology.