LEIDEN, The Netherlands, January 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Dutch scientists have gained important new insights into intestinal cancer from studying a plant. The disease is called Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome, a hereditary disorder where people develop intestinal polyps that turn into malignant tumors. "With experiments on these plants we now have a better understanding of how cancer cells react in the human body," says the principle investigator, Maikel Peppelenbosch.

Peppelenbosch, as professor of Cell Biology at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, carried out this research for Top Institute Pharma. "A natural process such as cell division occurs in both plants and humans," Prof. Peppelenbosch explains. "Cancer cells that sense they are getting too much food will rapidly multiply. By imitating this process in plants and studying what happens to the plant cells we have learned a great deal about the development of Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome."

Among other things, the investigators found a protein in the plants that could be a target for a medicine. They expect the same protein (p21Rac) may also be disordered in patients with intestinal cancer. "These insights come from a very unexpected angle," says Peppelenbosch.

According to the professor in Cell Biology, these new insights could also be used for another disease, called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). It is a serious, rare disease that causes tumors in children. "By imitating the disease in plants, we hope to design a specific therapy eventually," continues Prof. Peppelenbosch.

Universities in Rotterdam, Leiden, Utrecht and Twente, and the biotech company Pepscan are partners in this Top Institute Pharma project.