Sherif El-Refai focuses his work on experimental and clinical interventions. Sherif El-Refai currently works within the University of Kentucky’s Black lab, where researchers use gene expression to develop targeted cancer treatments.
In March 2017, researchers at Rockefeller University announced the development of an intervention that may reduce tumor growth by regulating gene expression. The research centers on proteins known as histones, changes to which may activate or deactivate a gene. Reader proteins within the cell then bind to the altered histone and facilitate activity of the gene.
Cancer researchers have already identified a type of reader protein known as the BET protein, which can inhibit tumor growth. The new discovery from the research team at Rockefeller University involves a type of protein that has similar potential to the BET protein but that shares a particular feature known as a YEATS domain. Like the BET protein, a protein with the YEATS domain binds to histones affected by a chemical mark known as an acetyl group.
Although the relevance of this particular functionality is as yet unknown, researchers do know that proteins with the YEATS domain may fuse with the MLL protein in certain patients with leukemia. Researchers tested this function by deleting a YEATS domain protein known as ENL from leukemia cells in mice, who had a significantly improved prognosis following the transplant of ENL-depleted proteins.
Researchers are now working on developing combination therapies that combine YEATS domain blockage with existing drugs that work as bromodomain inhibitors. The hope is to further explore the potential of YEATS domain blockers not only in leukemia but also in cancers of other types.