2013 was an excellent year for cancer research at research universities. We saw the progress of USC against blood cancer, UCLA against brain cancer, and UMich against colon cancer, to name only a few. However, there are some forms of cancer that resist drugs in general and render these treatment methods useless. Fortunately, the new year brings results from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where life science researchers are unraveling the inner workings of these multi-drug-resistant (MDR) forms of cancer.
As the name implies, MDR cancers are mutations of other cancers that make them resistant to typical drugs. This leads to perplexing situations for researchers and physicians where a drug proven effective against a certain type of cancer suddenly has no effect in a patient. They are caused by an overabundance of a regulator cell called p-glycoprotein, which transports drugs out of cells. This protein is useful in moderation to keep cells clean and running smoothly, but in a MDR cancer there are so many of them that drugs are pumped out of the cell before they can even fight the cancer inside.
Because of this, finding a way to suppress these proteins has been a pressing goal in the research community. “There is a lot of research going on in pharmaceutical companies trying to find an inhibitor of p-glycoprotein,” according to Emad Tajkhorshid, a University of Illinois professor of biochemistry and pharmacology and lead investigator for the study. “If we can understand the transport cycle, we have a much larger repertoire of structures for rational drug design.”
Unfortunately, since p-glycoprotein (right, courtesy UIUC) is a transporter protein, it’s specially designed not to react with other proteins or chemicals. Its inner workings are “locked” in the interior of the protein, making it a very tough nut to crack. Through observation and experimentation, Tajkhorshid and his team came across the “key”: undulations within the cell that twist and turn the protein around until it opens up to reveal its interior. “We call it a doorknob mechanism,” says Tajkhorshid. “It’s locked, so you have to twist it first before you open it.”
Of course, the next step is to find both a way to simulate those undulations that expose the interior of the protein and a suitable inhibitor for the protein. The Urbana-Champaign team is confident that they have opened the doors for this follow-up research and have struck a significant blow against MDR cancers.
This study was supported by three unique grants from the National Institutes of Health. More funding information related to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the research it conducts can be found using the link below:
If you are a UIUC researcher or laboratory supplier, and would like to boost awareness of your products and increase scientific sales, plan to attend Biotechnology Calendar, Inc.'s annual Urbana-Champaign BioResearch Product Faire, held next on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 on the University of Illinois campus. Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. has been bringing life science research trade shows to top research campuses for 20 years now. If you’d like to attend a show closer to home, please see our 2014 schedule of events.