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Understanding the Cancer Brain

It is thought that cancer cells have a 'brain,' which is responsible for turning the cells 'on' or 'off'. We are using an amazing technique called Stable Isotope Labelling with Amino Acids in Cell Culture (SILAC) to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cancer brain. We aim to learn exactly what takes place during the onset and growth of cancer - one protein at a time.

Proteins are present in all of the cells in our body, including in cancer cells. The types of proteins, their quantity, and the level of their activity can differ between normal cells and cancer cells. Proteins enable cancer cells to grow very fast or they can cause them not to respond to a given drug. One of the main approaches in studying cancer cells and identifying new treatment targets is to analyse their protein content in great detail.

SILAC is a novel method that allows scientists to perform large-scale identification and quantification of proteins in cells they are studying. The scientist grows cancer cells and 'feeds' them a special type of media which contains amino acids. The amino acids effectively bind to the proteins within the cancer cells. The SILAC machine is able to detect these amino acids and thus they act as labels for the different proteins within the cells. After being left to grow for three weeks, the cell cultures are collected and a different kinase protein eliminated in each one through a technique called 'gene silencing'. This culture is then introduced into a machine which uses the amino acid labels as a means of identifying the different proteins and produces both quantitative and qualitative data about them.

The delicate balance of proteins in cancer cells is achieved because proteins can 'talk' to one another to influence their activity and quantity, ultimately controlling cancer cell behaviour. This is why it is important to know how eliminating one protein within a cancer cell affects the rest of the proteins and their activity. SILAC enables us to achieve this. We want to eliminate, one by one, the kinases in the human kinome, and investigate how abolishment of each one individually affects both the quantity of different proteins within a cancer cell and their activity. This information is crucial for understanding cancer cells and will be pioneering research that generations of scientists will refer to. We hope it will be a true legacy experiment which will pave the way for the design of drugs, targeting those proteins that are found to play the most important role in the progression of cancer.

Understanding the Cancer Brain
The Human Kinome
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Understanding the Cancer Brain
The Human Kinome