Scientists have long been aware that zinc is a vital player in human health. Too much zinc, or too little, can lead to cell death. There is mounting evidence that links zinc to diseases like neurodegeneration, inflammation, diabetes, and cancer.
Cells regulate their zinc levels through the use of protein molecules called zinc transporters. These move zinc in and out of the cells so the ideal levels are maintained. Until now, scientists were unsure how the transporters released the zinc. The study authors have been able to identify the specific zinc transporter (ZIP7) and the switch (CK2) that allows the zinc to flow.
Prior research by the team has already established a connection between zinc delivery and types of breast cancer. Higher levels of zinc and its transporters were also found in tamoxifen-resistant breast tumors. The zinc control switch was also known to be more common in cancers that encourage cell growth. The discovery that links the switch and the transporter suggests that drugs capable of blocking the release of zinc could also inhibit cancer growth.
Study author, Dr. Kathryn Taylor, claims, “Our better understanding of how exactly zinc is delivered suggests if we can block malfunctioning transporter channels, we can potentially halt the growth of these forms of cancer. We believe this makes zinc, and zinc delivery, a high priority for future cancer research."
Investigator, Christer Hogstrand, concludes, “The evidence that zinc is released on command in the cell and then regulates cellular processes seems to set it apart from other transition metals, such as copper and iron, in the way that it is used by the body. These findings should open the door for new research into the roles of zinc in health and disease.”