Protein paradox: finding out how a family of molecules can both help and hinder cancer
Dr Olivier Pardo hopes to reveal how a family of molecules called RSK proteins affect the development of lung cancer and breast cancer. Understanding more about this effect will help find new cures for patients.
Hope for the future
Lung cancer and breast cancer are two of the major cancer killers worldwide. They are both harder to cure when they spread to other parts of the body or when the cancer becomes resistant to treatments.
Research about the way that our cells communicate has sparked the development of potential new cancer cures, but these treatments don’t always work as well as hoped. Dr Pardo wants to better understand how a group of molecules called the RSK family are involved in communication between cancer cells in breast and lung cancer. By exploring this, he hopes to identify new, better cures.
Meet the scientist
Dr Pardo was born in France where he studied Pharmacy. But he always knew that scientific research was his future. He first came to the UK as a visiting student working in labs during the summer holidays. He met wonderful people along the way who mentored him and helped him establish his career in the UK. When not in the lab, he trains Chinese martial arts and reads, with music being a constant companion.
RSK proteins normally help our cells to communicate with each other. In cancers, including breast cancer and lung cancer, the RSK proteins are involved in the formation of tumours, and so targeting these proteins is potentially a good way to treat cancer.
Until recently, researchers had assumed that the four members of the RSK family behaved similarly in the development of different cancers. However, a breakthrough from Dr Pardo and his team suggests that this is not the case. In lung cancer, the researchers found that blocking RSK4 stopped cancers from spreading and helped chemotherapy to cure the cancer. But blocking RSK1 did the opposite, actually helping lung cancers to grow. Even more surprising was that in breast cancer this was the opposite way round – blocking RSK1 helped stop cancers but blocking RSK4 helped cancers to grow.
Now, Dr Pardo will use lung and breast cells, both healthy and cancerous, to explore how the RSK proteins communicate with other molecules to cause these opposite effects. He hopes this will identify new ways to treat breast cancer and lung cancer, and perhaps to even find ways to repurpose existing cures for certain patients.
When I was a young boy, a friend of our family of whom I was very fond developed lung cancer. Before he died, I saw the disease change him from a strong imposing man into one who was weak and afraid. This marked me deeply and is probably one of the main reasons why I work in trying to find new cures for cancer.
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