Friday, April 27, 2012

Computer simulation reveals 115 potential cancer drugs

Organisms exist because countless different proteins and other molecules work together in endlessly complex processes that keep our cells packed together in an organized fashion. It is therefore no surprise that scientists have increased the use of computer models to analyse interactions and biological mechanisms. When the Hospital del Mar Research Institute performed a computer study to find proteins involved with cancer mechanisms, they found a library of 115 that could potentially be targeted for new therapies.

Their computer simulations were aimed at finding targets for colon-rectal cancer, an especially dangerous form that often ends up being lethal. Computer simulations were performed to find out what a drug should interact with to allow for selective killing of colon cells that are cancerous, while leaving healthy cells intact. They looked at differential toxicity, which means looking for a big difference in response to treatment when comparing healthy with cancerous cells.

As much as 30.000 molecules were analysed for their capability to be more toxic in cancer cells than in healthy cells. After getting the most promising ones, scientists assessed which proteins in the cell they interact with, based on computer models that calculate affinity. By getting to know the proteins that, when targeted, cause more damage in cancerous cells compared to healthy ones, they were able to get as much as 115 proteins that met the requirements. It means that these 115 proteins have shown to be causing more damage in tumour cells than in healthy cells when targeted, which is naturally interesting when trying to look for new ways to disrupt cancer.

These 115 proteins represent possible new drug targets. If we manage to build a functional drug that targets them, it could very well selectively kill cancer cells, while leaving surrounding, healthy tissue intact. Because this is the hallmark of cancer research, and never very easy, it is likely that we will not be able to use all 115 proteins in the end. It is even quite likely that only a few of them make it through the development process. Nevertheless, having a source of 115 potential targets to work with is quite a luxury, and promising for the future of cancer drugs.

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