New approaches to cell study contributes to cancer research

September 12, 2014 by Megan O'connor, Ryerson University
New approaches to cell study contributes to cancer research
Costin Antonescu, a chemistry and biology researcher with his team: one of their goals is to understand how cell-surface protein regulation is disrupted in tumours. Photo: Graham Pearson

At Ryerson, some of our top researchers are committed to finding out how cells function, and to building our knowledge of the basic science of cellular function while investigating diseases and the potential for new therapies and diagnostics. They are supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and by a growing network of partnerships with clinical laboratories in Toronto.

Faculty of Science professor Costin Antonescu looks at how proteins are regulated. "One of our main goals," he says, referring to his Ryerson lab group, "is to understand how this regulation is disrupted in tumours.

Hormones instruct cells on what to do by binding to a type of protein on a target cell's surface-termed hormone receptors, which act as molecular conduits of hormone action. When the proteins become disrupted, it can lead to many different diseases. A critical component of human cancer is a change in the organization and function of proteins found at the cell surface."

Antonescu is studying the epidermal growth factor (EGF), a hormone essential to many functions of the body—from healing wounds to normal heart function—but that in high levels can trigger cancerous growth.

"It's not just the presence of [epidermal growth factor receptor] EGFR that interests me," says Antonescu. "We are beginning to look at the spatial dimensions of hormone receptors. How do cells use scaffolds to create spatial organization?"

Protein scaffolds help connect a hormone, using a hormone receptor like EGFR, to the other molecules within a cell that enact the changes instructed by the hormone (leading to cell growth). It is a new and exciting approach, offering potential insight into cell mechanisms and signalling pathways. This may in turn suggest new treatments for diseases in which are disrupted, like cancer.

The Antonescu research group also studies how other types of proteins at the cell surface are regulated. One such group of proteins, called "integrins", is used by cells to attach to the correct location within specific organs. Antonescu's group is examining how cell stress—such as the stress a cell experiences when it does not have enough fuel (e.g., glucose)—signals to integrin proteins at the cell surface to change how a cell attaches to other cells and tissues.

Several types of molecules inside cells impact how these are able to function. One such type is a family of lipids called "phosphoinositides." Antonescu's group studies how new properties of these phosphoinositide lipids control the function of proteins at the cell surface. This research may provide additional new methods to treat tumours, since many of the proteins at the cell surface (e.g., EGFR) are required for cancer to grow and spread.

Explore further: Carcinogenic role of a protein in liver decoded

Related Stories

Carcinogenic role of a protein in liver decoded

September 1, 2014
The human protein EGFR controls cell growth. It has mutated in case of many cancer cells or exists in excessive numbers. For this reason it serves as a point of attack for target-oriented therapies. A study group at the Comprehensive ...

Researchers identify new functional roles on cell surfaces for estrogen

May 27, 2014
A discovery by UC Irvine endocrinologists about the importance of cell surface receptors for estrogen has the potential to change how researchers view the hormone's role in normal organ development and function.

Crystal structure reveals how minor variations make receptor proteins activate or inhibit natural killer cells

August 27, 2014
Natural killer (NK) cells are white blood cells that can detect and destroy abnormal cells, including cancer cells or cells infected by viruses. A*STAR researchers have now resolved a longstanding puzzle concerning the receptor ...

Recommended for you

More than 2,500 cancer cases a week could be avoided

March 23, 2018
More than 135,500 cases of cancer a year in the UK could be prevented through lifestyle changes, according to new figures from a Cancer Research UK landmark study published today.

Metastatic lymph nodes can be the source of distant metastases in mouse models of cancer

March 22, 2018
A study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators finds that, in mouse models, cancer cells from metastatic lymph nodes can escape into the circulation by invading nodal blood vessels, leading to the development ...

Could a pap test spot more than just cervical cancer?

March 22, 2018
Pap tests have helped drive down rates of cervical cancer, and a new study suggests they also could be used to detect other gynecologic cancers early.

Researchers identify compound to prevent breast cancer cells from activating in brain

March 22, 2018
Researchers at Houston Methodist used computer modeling to find an existing investigational drug compound for leukemia patients to treat triple negative breast cancer once it spreads to the brain.

Researchers examine role of fluid flow in ovarian cancer progression

March 22, 2018
New research from Virginia Tech is moving physicians closer to pinpointing a predictor of ovarian cancer, which could lead to earlier diagnosis of what is know as the "silent killer."

Gene-based test for urine detects, monitors bladder cancer

March 22, 2018
Researchers at The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a test for urine, gathered during a routine procedure, to detect DNA mutations identified with urothelial cancers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.