£1.4m grant to un­lock mys­tery of can­cer cells

Birmingham Post - - NEWS -

UNIVER­SITY re­searchers hope to un­lock the mys­tery of how can­cer cells “steal the keys” to the bod­ies nor­mal func­tions, thanks to a £1.4 mil­lion award.

The money from Can­cer Re­search UK will be used by Dr Mathew Cole­man to try to dis­cover how can­cer dis­rupt healthy cell growth and func­tion.

Dr Cole­man and his team, of the In­sti­tute of Can­cer and Ge­nomic Sciences at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, will re­ceive the money over six years as he re­searches three spe­cific pro­teins that are thought to have a role in can­cer.

Al­though this re­search fo­cuses on gas­troin­testi­nal can­cer, the team’s find­ings will likely be ap­pli­ca­ble to a va­ri­ety of other tu­mour types.

Dr Cole­man said: “The pro­teins in our cells all have dif­fer­ent roles. We are in­ter­ested in three par­tic­u­lar pro­teins, which are all en­zymes that act as ‘lock­smiths’ for other pro­teins.

“Usu­ally, th­ese en­zymes, called ‘oxy­ge­nases’, work by at­tach­ing an oxy­gen mol­e­cule to spe­cific parts of other pro­teins, which gen­er­ally turns them on.

“This is a bit like a lock­smith putting a key in a lock – once the door is opened, it ‘un­locks’ pro­cesses in a cell that en­sure it de­vel­ops nor­mally and that ev­ery­thing is prop­erly con­trolled.

“We have found that th­ese en­zyme ‘lock­smiths’ be­come faulty in can­cer, mean­ing they’re un­able to at­tach oxy­gen mol­e­cules to other pro­teins prop­erly.

“This means the door re­mains shut, and cer­tain pro­cesses are ‘locked out’. We think that this can lead to ab­nor­mal cell growth and func­tion, which can lead to can­cer. It’s as if can­cer has stolen the keys from th­ese lock­smiths.”

> Dr Mathew Cole­man

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