NGF and the amazing discovery that allows to change a cell destiny.
NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) is an important secreted protein first discovered in the 1950s by Rita Levi-Montalcini and recognized in the 1986, when she won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
It is fundamental for the formation, growth and maintenance of sympathetic and sensory neurons and causes axonal growth. Without it, these neurons go in apoptosis.
Why is the NGF so extraordinary over all the other medical discoveries? Because it’s incredible imaging that we can give this little molecule to a group of cells in vitro and say: “Now be what I want you to become!”.
How? Let me tell you something about Pheochromocytoma.
Pheocromocytoma is a rare neuroendocrine tumor of the medulla of the adrenal glands (originating in the chromaffin cells) and it secretes high amounts of catecholamines (so it causes elevated blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia).
Rita Levi-Montalcini promoted a research project between University of Perugia and King College University of London about NGF and its effects on these neoplastic cells.
What were the results? Unbelievable! Not only the cancerous cells stopped to grow uncontrollably, but also they differentiated in organised, disciplined and non-cancerous neurons! Obviously this regressed when the administration of NGF ended.
This discovery opened new pathways for cancer research and for its definitive therapy.
I want to finish this post honoring Rita Levi-Montalcini, a great Italian woman and scientist, a great mind, passed away on December 30, 2012.