Scientists are looking to harness the immune system to fight cancer
Over 20,000 women across the U.S. and Canada are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually. The symptoms of this disease are often overlooked until it has spread, making it difficult to detect and treat with conventional methods like radiation and chemotherapy.
Dr. Cory Books, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, Fresno, is looking to harness the immune system to fight cancer. He is interested in a particular protein, called mucin, that is found throughout the body and is involved with the production of mucus. This protein is altered in cancer cells, which makes it a unique target for researchers.
“The cell stops adding sugars to the protein, so instead of having this mucus layer, now it has a solid protein layer, and cancer uses that to help spread itself through the body,” Brooks said.
This alteration helps ovarian cancer grow and spread, but it also leaves a signal that can help clinicians locate the cancer and kill it.
“What that means now is that there’s sort of this unique signature that we can target with antibodies to develop a new treatment for cancer,” Brooks said.
Researchers have been interested in this protein since the late 1980s but have never before been able to visualize how antibodies interact with the molecule.
With the help of the CMCF beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) located at the University of Saskatchewan, Brooks and his team were able to see how antibodies bind to the protein for the first time.
Read more on the CLS website
Image: Brandy White, lead author on the study and graduate student with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, Fresno.