Spider web of cancer proteins reveals new drug possibilities

Scientists at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have mapped a vast spider web of interactions between proteins in lung cancer cells, as part of an effort to reach what was considered "undruggable."

This approach revealed new ways to target cells carrying mutations in cancer-causing genes. As an example, researchers showed sensitivity to an FDA-approved drug, palbociclib, for a gene that is commonly mutated in lung cancer cells, which is now being tested in a clinical study.

The results are published online in Nature Communications.

Many genes that drive the growth of cancer cells don’t have any drugs available against them. For "tumor suppressor" genes, researchers are often not sure how to go after them. When the tumor suppressors are gone, cells often become more deranged, but there’s no bullseye left to target. Exploiting the cancer cells’ derangement remains a daunting challenge, says senior author Haian Fu, PhD. Dr. Fu is a faculty member in the CB and MSP programs.

"Our approach is to place tumor suppressors in the context of a network of cancer-associated proteins and link tumor suppressors to drugs through a known drug target protein," Fu says. "In this way, changes in a tumor suppressor may be linked with the response of the target to the connected drug."

The study is part of a push by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Target Discovery and Development (CTD2) network to translate genomics data into therapeutic strategies, he says. Emory is a member of the NCI CTD2  network.

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