09.10.2017 change 13.11.2017

Wrocław/ Research project will allow to better understand cancer biology

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Better understanding of cancer biology - which may result in the development of new anti cancer therapies, is the objective of the research project led by Dr. Marcin Poręba from Wroclaw University of Technology. The researcher analyses the behaviour of proteins involved in the formation of cancer cells.

Three-year research project carried out by Dr. Poręba is due to end in 2018. The researcher has received a European Horizon 2020 grant. The first two years of the research are conducted in Prof. Guy Salvesen\'s lab at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego, USA, and the scientist will spend the last year of the project in Prof. Marcin Drąg\'s lab at the Faculty of Chemistry, Wroclaw University of Technology.

Dr. Poręba conducts protease research. These are proteins that can cut other proteins or peptides into shorter fragments. "They have many important functions in the body, from the simplest ones - like digesting foods, to more complex ones, such as carrying out the process of apoptosis (cell death) or carrying signal in the cell and between cells" - the scientist told PAP.

In his research, the chemist focuses mainly on caspases and cathepsins. Both types of proteases allow to understand the cancerous processes that take place in your body. "Caspases are proteases that are responsible for apoptosis, which is the death of a cell. Diseased or unnecessary cell gets a signal that it has to die. Unfortunately, sometimes caspases can not be +switched on+, which leads to the formation of tumours. And here comes the second group of enzymes that I deal with, namely cathepsins" - the scientist said.

As he explained, in healthy cells cathepsins have many useful functions, but in cancer cells their activity of grows in an uncontrolled manned. "In addition, they are sent outside the cell. This is a very dangerous situation because these enzymes are capable of cutting the connections between cells - which causes cancer cells to break apart and migrate through the body. And this leads to the process of cancer metastasis" - added Dr. Poręba.

The aim of the project carried out by the Wroclaw researcher is to track caspases and cathepsins during cancer development. "Simultaneous analysis of several enzymes is very difficult, so we use mass cytometry in our studies. It\'s a relatively young analytical method, but it has a tremendous research potential" - he explained.

He added that the unique feature of this research project is the use of low molecular weight chemical markers containing heavy metal isotopes to determine the activity of selected enzymes. "Until now, mass cytometry was based only on the use of antibodies, which hindered the functional analysis of the enzymes, and our task is to develop a new technology for simultaneous visualization of enzyme activity in cancer samples" - he said.

The researcher hopes that, as a result of the project, it will be possible to determine which of the enzymes have a key role in carcinogenesis and metastasis, and which of them have only secondary roles or no role at all. In the future, this may contribute to the development of new, more effective and targeted cancer therapies.

In Lower Silesia, the Wroclaw Regional Contact Point helps in the acquisition of research funds under the Horizon 2020 programme free of charge. Horizon 2020 is the largest research and innovation funding programme in the history of the European Union. Its budget for 2014-2020 is almost 80 billion euros. In Poland, more than 950 research and development projects have been financed by this programme so far, including almost 50 in Lower Silesia. (PAP)

author: Piotr Doczekalski

editor: Anna Ślązak

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

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