Zinc Transporter Key To Disease

Scientists at Michigan State University have discovered a key structure, a ZIP zinc transporter. The human genome encodes fourteen ZIPs, many of which are associated with disease. Mapping of the ZIP core exposes it’s framework, which is made up of thousands of metal transporters.

Patient’s with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have significantly higher levels of zinc and iron in their brains. Patients with pancreatic cancer also have an unusually high amount of a specific zinc transporter. Controlling these levels of trace elements could be key in planning ways to combat these diseases and others.

The discovery gives pharmaceutical companies targets to develop and test new drugs. Jian Hu, a Michigan State University biochemist, explains, “”ZIP4 is aberrantly over expressed in pancreatic cancer cells, but it’s not present in normal pancreatic tissue,” Hu said. “This, and knowing that ZIP4 mutations also lead to a lethal genetic disorder, makes ZIP4 a prime drug target that could possibly help patients suffering from many diseases.”

Hu has spent most of his career studying zinc and other trace elements essential to life. Discovering the mechanisms the body uses to maintain proper levels and the effects when those levels go ary could be key to unlocking the ZIP’s secrets and the critical role they play.

“In the long run, we hope our study will contribute to the discovery of the ZIP inhibitors for pancreatic cancer and other devastating diseases,” Hu said.