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Visualising where drugs attach to their targets inside cancer cells

  • Researcher: Professor Carolyn Moores
  • Institution: Birkbeck University of London, England
  • Award Amount: £232,911 for 3 years from 1st January 2016
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Visualising where drugs attach to their targets inside cancer cells
How can we see what goes on inside cells? Developing miniscule cameras to go inside of the cells isn’t physically possible, neither is building a machine similar to the one featured in the film ‘Honey I shrunk the kids’. Instead, Professor Carolyn Moores is developing state of the art electron microscopy to visualise where drugs bind to their target molecules in cancer cells.

Professor Moores explains “Tightly controlled cell multiplication is essential for replacing old cells and to repair wounds. However, mutations or malfunctions in this process can lead to out-of-control cell growth, a hallmark of cancer.

The purpose of this research is to study the machinery of cell multiplication in order to find potential drugs that can block it. Such drugs can act as “spanners in the works” of the out-of-control machinery and thus have the potential to be used as cancer treatments.

Our focus will be on a major component of this machinery called microtubules. Microtubules are long cylindrical structures that provide support and strength to cells. Within the multipliation machinery, microtubules act as tracks along which many different molecular motors - called kinesins - can move. We will study the way individual kinesins step along microtubules and how their movement can be blocked specifically by potential drugs.

We will use a very powerful microscope - an electron microscope - to take pictures of individual microtubules bound by drug-blocked kinesins. Revolutionary new imaging technology means that our pictures will provide unprecedented detail, from which we will calculate the three-dimensional shape of our samples.

Knowing what the motors look like helps us to determine the most precise way to block them. This precision is important because drugs that act on the wrong piece of cellular machinery could be poisonous to non-cancer cells. This technique could potentially revolutionise the way drug discovery is carried out and our findings could be used to design specific drugs that can be further developed to improve treatments for cancers in the future. It is an exciting time to be an electron microscopist and we are thrilled that Worldwide Cancer Research is supporting our research in this area.”
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