Nov 13, 2016
Catching a tumor in a spider's web
Proteins in boiled eggs, beer foam and spider silk all share a similar structural element: amyloid. These structures are active in humans as well, playing a role in processes such as melanin production and cellular hormone storage. However, amyloids are also associated with diseases like cataracts, Alzheimer's and blood clotting disorders. The Switch Laboratory, led by professors Frederic Rousseau and Joost Schymkowitz, has now invented a design principle that could be used to destroy the function of virtually any protein based on the properties of amyloids.
The first validated result of this new technology is called vascin, a designer amyloid that targets a well-known cancer target. In short, vascin penetrates a cell, and induces the formation of protein aggregates of its target protein, VEGFR2. These 'clumps' are the result of VEGFR2 protein that started sticking together, making it nonfunctional. Because VEGFR2 is crucial to the survival of certain cancer types, its inactivation kills the cancer cells and stops the tumor's growth.
Prof. Frederic Rousseau (VIB-KU Leuven): "One could compare it to 'catching tumors in a spider's web'. By artificially imitating the formation of protein clumps, we can inhibit molecules that play a central role in several diseases. Because these principles apply to virtually any protein, our approach may not only be useful in developing future cancer therapies, but also in treating drug-resistant infections."
The invention of the Pept-in™ technology dates back several years and is subject to broad patent protection. Meanwhile, the Switch Lab, in collaboration with several other research groups, has shown that this technology could have many applications, from treating superbug and fungal infections to engineering improved crops.
Prof. Joost Schymkowitz (VIB-KU Leuven): "Although we don't yet know if functional amyloids could be used in humans for therapeutic applications, the potential for novel drugs is huge. Our team will now spend the coming years trying to turn this into direct benefits for patients."
Read more at Science Daily