First map of proteins in tumour cells pinpoints cancer therapy targets

Science Photo Library: Breast cancer cells
This is the first map to show how proteins interact in cancer. It also highlights previously undiscovered mutations that could be used for therapy.

Trey Ideker, University of California, San Diego and his collaborators created a map that looked at the interactions of several dozen cancer proteins in breast and neck cancer.

Ideker says that cancer genes don't act in isolation. It's like how parts of a machine affect each other.


Protein interaction maps are a way to identify all the ways that proteins interact in a biological system. The team selected 61 of the most common mutations in two cancers, and then determined how they interacted with hundreds of other proteins found in cancer tumours.

Ideker says that we are searching for proteins that are most at risk of mutation during cancer.

The team discovered 771 protein interactions that involved around 650 proteins in head and neck cancer. 84 percent of these interactions were not reported previously. Future oncology drugs could target or disrupt these interactions to slow down the growth of cancerous cells.

The team also discovered a mutation in the protein collagen, which was not apparent from previous research.

Continue reading: Human trials of mRNA-based cancer therapy after shrinking mouse tumors

Ideker says this is the major breakthrough in the study. Although there have been some anecdotes that cancer mutations were found in this manner before, no one has ever systematically demonstrated this.

Ideker hopes that the method can be applied to other types of cancers, and that others will join the effort to map more protein interactions in cancer. He believes this will not only help to find new drugs but also allow scientists to identify new cancer biomarkers that will aid doctors in designing more personalized treatments.

Chris Bakal, from the Institute of Cancer Research, UK, said that this research allows us to identify which proteins are often involved in certain cancers. It also helps us understand how mutations affect these protein interactions.

He points out that researchers only examined a few proteins. Therefore, the primary benefit of the study is to highlight how protein interactions can best be mapped in cancer.

He says that there will be more work.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abf2911

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