Massey researcher provides expert commentary on enzyme’s role in cancer and inflammation

2007 WISDMInternationally renowned VCU Massey Cancer Center researcher Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., together with Santiago Lima, Ph.D., have co-authored an article for the Previews section of the Cell Press journal, Structure, on a recent research breakthrough.

For the first time, the atomic structure of the enzyme, sphinogosine kinase 1, SphK1, responsible for an important potent lipid mediator, sphingosine-1-phosphate, has been uncovered by a research team at Amgen in San Francisco.

In their expert commentary, Spiegel, Mann T. and Sara D. Lowry Professor of Oncology and co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at Massey and professor and chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Lima, postdoctoral fellow in Spiegel’s department, discuss how the newly discovered atomic structure of sphingosine-1-phosphate will expand mechanistic understanding of the molecule significantly. The molecule itself was originally discovered by Spiegel in the mid-1990s and has been found to play a role in cancer progression, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

For many years, cell biologists, including Spiegel and her colleagues, have investigated how sphingosine-1-phosphate, S1P, and sphinogosine kinase 1, SphK1, function and the molecular pathways they are involved with. But its precise structure has remained unclear until now.

“The structures provide a vital baseline from which to generate predictions and targeted modifications that further probe the many nuances of functional elements in SphK1 activity and regulation,” wrote Spiegel and Lima.

“These findings will provide us with molecular tools to understand the functions of this important enzyme as well as development of new drugs that target it in cancer and inflammation,” said Spiegel.

Spiegel, has received multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health to continuously fund her research for nearly 20 years. In 2003, she was awarded a National Institutes of Health MERIT award totaling nearly $2.1 million to continue her research on S1P. The award is given to investigators who have demonstrated superior competence and productivity.

Based on article authored by Sathya Achia Abraham