Scientists pave way for improved tools to predict and monitor cancer

Scientists have shown how to better identify and measure vital molecules that control cell behaviour - paving the way for improved tools for diagnosis, prediction and monitoring of cancer. 

Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute based at The University of Manchester - part of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre - and the Institute of Cancer Research, London, looked at protein kinases, molecules that control various aspects of cellular function.

The study, funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)/Pfizer CASE studentship and CRUK,was published in Nature Methods this week (24 August). 

Earlier work has shown that mutations or increases in a range of protein kinases are linked to tumour growth, and for several decades researchers have looked to develop drugs that target and prevent this activity in order to kill cancer cells. Ten types of drugs which reduce the activity have so far been approved for cancer treatment in patients. 

Dr Claus Jørgensen, who led the study as team leader in the Division of Cancer Biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, before taking up a new post as head of the Systems Oncology group at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: "Protein kinases regulate how cells communicate. When these molecules are deregulated it corresponds to cells "hearing voices" with a resulting change in their behaviour. Doctors need a way to spot changes in kinase levels in individual tumours so they can see how they respond to treatments and match patients to the treatment that works best for them." 

The team investigated the make-up of over 200 protein kinases. They used a technique known as mass spectrometry to develop a method that can both identify and measure the amount of various kinases in a biological sample - for example from a part of a tumour removed in surgery. "Our new method can correctly measure the amount of protein kinases in a sample. It means we can monitor cancer cell behaviour and also how tumours respond to different therapy in cancer patients," added Dr Jørgensen.

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