The Role of APOBECs in the Battle Against Cancer in Science and Medicine

One of the handiest tools in our immune system is an enzyme called apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing enzyme, catalytic polypeptide — better known as APOBECs. “So from the virus perspective, these enzymes protect us,” said Reuben Harris, PhD, chair of the UT Health San Antonio Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology. His lab is dedicated to understanding APOBECs. APOBECs are DNA mutating enzymes that normally serve to protect us from invading viruses. But in many instances in cancer becomes dysregulated. And instead of destroying viruses, end up destroying our genomes, Harris said.

“So in cancer the good guys can become villains that do catastrophic damage,” he said. “But what we propose is in a lot of tumors, one of the frontline standards of care is surgical resection and therapy. That’s the time to stop APOBEC from doing any more damage.” So after an APOBEC positive tumor is removed, if you could shut off these enzymes, you could reduce the risk that the cancer will return, or spread, or change in such a way that it becomes resistant to medication. “If we can stop that, we can make all of these adverse events much less likely to happen,” he said. “That’s something we get really excited about every day.”

Reuben S. Harris, PhD, is Principle Investigator, Professor, and Chairman of Biochemistry and Structural Biology at UT Health San Antonio. Science & Medicine is a collaboration between TPR and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio that explores how scientific discovery in San Antonio advances the way medicine is practiced everywhere.

By Samantha Robertson

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