5 reasons we’re excited by structural biology is cancer research :
1. It means we can look at proteins in atomic detail:
Our structural biologists explore the shapes of proteins in detail, down to the individual atom, and work out how they interlock with other proteins and potential drugs. Proteins are the drivers of all our biological processes, which are hijacked in cancer to drive cell growth and spread.
2. We can use X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy to 'see' proteins:
X-ray crystallography is a technique that offers a fascinating way by which we can look at proteins to understand how they work. Dr Sebastian Guettler has used this technique to help understand which parts of certain proteins might be targets for cancer drugs.
3. We can use these techniques to make maps:
Several ICR-led research programmes are using the techniques mentioned above to improve our knowledge of key cancer-causing proteins. One focus is cell division – normally a highly regulated process, but hijacked by cancer to drive its continued growth. Recent studies from our Division of Structural Biology have produced detailed maps of two major players in this process: the proteasome and the anaphase promoting complex.
4. We’re using state-of-the-art technology:
Some of our researchers are using a developing technology that is sparking much excitement in the field, called cryo-electron microscopy. This involves freezing and imaging samples at -180°C to preserve the finest details of the protein shapes. This type of microscopy is an emerging and tremendously exciting approach in cancer drug design.
5. We want to use our knowledge of proteins to discover new drugs:
Our structural biologists work closely with our drug discoverers, exploring how prototype drugs interact with proteins to block signalling pathways. We are particularly keen to focus on hard-to-treat cancer targets, that no current drugs are effective against.