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Testing a new drug development strategy

  • Researcher: Professor Andrew Fry
  • Institution: Leicester University, Leicester, England
  • Award Amount: £233,135 for 3 years from 1st April 2016
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Testing a new drug development strategy
The accurate division of cells to grow, replenish tissues or repair wounds is a highly complex process. It requires thousands of proteins to be made in the correct shape, built into functional machines and then regulated in an accurate and timely manner to ensure that cell division occurs without error.

Central to this process are ‘chaperones’, a diverse family of proteins that act as ‘cellular guardians’. These associate with newly made proteins to ensure that they are properly folded and correctly assembled into intricate biological complexes.

One group of chaperones is the ‘heat shock proteins’ or HSPs that protect cells from the ‘shock’ of high temperatures. They do this by helping proteins maintain their correct shape despite the increased temperature. However, HSPs do much more than simply protect cells from ‘heat shock’. They also ensure the survival of cells exposed to other stresses, such as the imbalances in protein content that can arise in various disease states.

Not surprisingly, HSPs are very important in human cancer, ensuring the survival of cancer cells within the stressful environment of a tumour. Consequently, there is major interest in the development of HSP inhibitors (drugs which inactivate HSPs) as novel anti-cancer therapies that can effectively eradicate and overcome drug resistance typical of tumours.

Professor Andrew Fry told us “We have discovered that one particular set of HSPs, called Hsp70, is essential for division of human cancer cells. The purpose of this research project is to use cutting-edge molecular and cell biology techniques to explore how Hsp70 contributes to cell division and design strategies that will block Hsp70 pathways specifically in cancer cells.

The award of this grant from Worldwide Cancer Research gives us a really exciting opportunity to test the idea that cancer cells have specific vulnerabilities not present in normal cells. If targeted appropriately, this would allow selective killing of tumour cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. This would enable patients to benefit without suffering the debilitating side-effects associated with traditional chemotherapeutic approaches "
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