Scientists from the George Washington University Medical Center have discovered an important process within mitosis cell division that could unlock new avenues within cancer research.

Researchers identified a protein known as Arpc 1b, which serves as both an activator as well as a substrate for Aurora A, an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the early stages of cellular reproduction.

In mitosis, cells begin to divide and genetic material coalesces around separate poles to form new cells. If this is successful two new cells are formed. But in cases where this protein is over expressed, aberrant cells are formed which often lead to cancer.

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology chair Rakesh Kumar said that this represents a crucial moment when the division of genetic material is still equally distributed.

“An even exchange is critical for stable genetic changes,” Kumar said.

Aurora A and Arpc1b have previously been shown to be over-expressed in breast cancers.

Pharmaceutical inhibitors targeting Aurora A are currently available; the next step for scientists is to find a means of suppressing the activity of Arpc 1b in cancer cells.

The findings have been published in The Journal of Cell Biology.