Researchers are currently investigating whether a naturally occurring human protein that can trigger the death of cancer cells could also be used as a treatment for obesity and diabetes.

Insulin pens. Image: Sriram Bala/ Flickr

Called tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), the protein’s role in promoting apoptosis, or programmed death, in cancer cells is well established. There is also increasing evidence that TRAIL can stimulate the proliferation, migration and differentiation of cells.

It turns out this protein may figure prominently in several biochemical pathways. For example, “TRAIL has been reported to have both positive and negative roles in, but not limited to, metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease,” says Hanis Harith, a staff member of Universiti Putra Malaysia who is pursuing a PhD at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

What’s more, “there is now growing evidence supporting its involvement in the development of obesity and diabetes,” states Harith and her colleagues in a review paper published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Specifically, various studies in rodent models suggest a negative association between TRAIL and features of obesity or diabetes.

According to the authors, various factors may influence the protein’s functions including its level of expression and secretion, the expression of its receptors, signalling, the cell types involved and the environment. “Only with further research can we grasp the far-reaching abilities of this very special molecule,” state the researchers.

For further information contact:

Hanis Harith
Universiti Putra Malaysia

Mary Kavurma
Heart Research Institute, Sydney, Australia