Have you ever heard of cowlick? A cowlick is a section of hair that stands straight up or lies at an angle at odds with the style in which the rest of an individual’s hair is worn. Cowlicks appear when the growth direction of the hair forms a spiral pattern. Medical experts claim that this hairstyle is only possible with the help of so-called “polarity genes.” These genes help direct nutrient flow across cells, but they also help cells join up and support each other. They cause certain biological structures to form opposing or “polarized” patterns, including in human hair which can, in some instances, lead to the cowlick.

Experts also claim that polarity genes also happen to specify where the front and rear ends of cells are, without which the cells will not be able to migrate from one place to another. When cancer cells move around the body during metastasis this polarity is abandoned. At that point, the affliction becomes incredibly difficult to treat. A group of researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) examined this and they discovered that there is a protein that normally suppresses tumors called retinoblastomas, a cancer that typically spreads in the eyes of young children.

This suppressor protein is actually a part of a large family of cellular guardians that control cell reproduction, DNA repair, and cellular self-destruction, all of which are important cancer-fighting tools. The researchers removed this retinoblastoma suppressor protein from their fruit flies, and watched as they took on an “unkempt” appearance, developing poorly-oriented wing hair, indicating that it also controls the expression of polarity genes as well as having anti-cancer functionality.

The high degree of genetic similarity between fruit flies and humans means that this protein probably plays a similar role in humans. If they manage to confirm this, it could lead to a range of new chemotherapy treatments that aim to restore this protein’s anti-cancer role that it otherwise may have lost.

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