Boston University LogoScientists are believed to have recognized a number of proteins whose activation may allow them to differentiate between cancer and normal cells with approximately 97 percent accuracy. Scientists from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Boston University Biomedical Engineering Department put forth these findings.

They have developed a novel computational strategy to investigate this data. Additionally, they seemed to have particularly identified key biological pathways i.e. molecular circuits that are active in cancer and ‘dormant’ in normal cells. Moreover, the study will eventually result in the development of drugs specifically designed to inhibit these proteins.

According to the study authors, there appear to be various features that make cancer cells different from normal cells. Also, they seem to look different histologically, they proliferate and divide at different rates. Moreover, they appear to be immortal in contrast to normal cells and are less communicative with their neighbor cells. In addition, they are observed to have been more ‘selfish’ in refusing to commit suicide i.e. programmed cell death which normal cells do when their genomes become unstable.

Much of the cellular machinery involved with these biological processes is known to be controlled by a command control and communication system called signal transduction. Signal transduction apparently is in large part controlled by a process called phosphorylation. When a protein is phosphorylated it could either become active or repressed depending on its special function.

“Therefore, identifying the phosphorylation status of proteins in cancer cells versus normal cells provides us with a unique ability to understand and perhaps intervene with the command and control center of cancer cells. Drugs are most effective on cancers when they attack the proteins that are activated,” says co-senior author Simon Kasif, PhD, who is the co-director of the Center of Advanced Genomic Technology and a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at BU.

Though cancers are extremely heterogeneous in their make-up, the authors were of the opinion that a drug that would target this collection of proteins may perhaps be an effective treatment for most lung cancers.

“This is the first statistically validated phosphopeptide signature to diagnose any disease, much less cancer or lung cancer,” explains senior co-author Martin Steffen, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at BUSM, and director, Proteomics Core Facility at BUSM.

This study was noted to have been performed in collaboration with Cell Signaling Technology employing their Phosphoscan ‘test kit.’ At present, a follow-up study seems to be in progress at BU in order to identify which cancers respond or not respond to existing cancer drugs based on the results of this test.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal, PLoS ONE.