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Archive - Apr 6, 2011

Engineers Design Protease Probes to Study Disease

Chemical engineers at the University of California at Santa Barbara expect that their new process to create molecular probes may eventually result in the development of new drugs to treat cancer and other illnesses. Their work, reported in the March 25, 2011 issue of Chemistry & Biology, published by Cell Press, describes a new strategy to build molecular probes to visualize, measure, and learn about the activities of enzymes, called proteases, on the surfaces of cancer cells. Dr. Patrick Daugherty, senior author and professor of chemical engineering at UCSB, explained that the probes are effective at understanding proteases involved in tumor metastasis. "Tumor metastasis is widely regarded as the cause of death for cancer patients," said Dr. Daugherty. "It's not usually the primary tumor that causes death. Metastasis is mediated by proteases, like the one we are studying here. These proteases can enable tumor cells to separate and degrade surrounding tissue, and then migrate to sites distant from the primary tumor. The tumor doesn't just fall apart. There are many events that must occur for a tumor to release cancerous cells into the blood stream that can circulate and end up in other tissues such as liver or bone." The probes allowed the researchers, for the first time, to measure directly the activity of a protease involved in metastasis. They did this by adding their probe into a dish of tumor cells. They then measured the activity of this protease that breaks down collagen –– the single most abundant protein (by mass) in the human body. "We have immediate plans to use similar probes to effectively distinguish metastatic HER2 positive tumors, one of the most commonly used biomarkers of breast cancer," said Dr. Daugherty.

Association Between Parkinson’s Disease and Prostate Cancer, Melanoma

University of Utah School of Medicine researchers have found compelling evidence that Parkinson's disease (PD) is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer and melanoma, and that this increased cancer risk also extends to close and distant relatives of individuals with PD. Although a link between PD and melanoma has been suspected before, this is the first time that an increased risk of prostate cancer has been reported in PD. PD is a progressive neurologic condition that leads to tremors and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination. Most studies demonstrate that individuals with PD have an overall decreased rate of cancer, with the notable exception of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Previous research has suggested a possible genetic link between PD and melanoma, but these studies have been limited to first-degree relatives who often share a similar environment, making it difficult to distinguish between genetic and environmental risk factors. "Neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease may share common disease-causing mechanisms with some cancers," says Dr. Stefan-M. Pulst, professor and chair of the department of neurology, at the University of Utah, and co-author on this study. "Using the Utah Population Database, we were able to explore the association of PD with different types of cancer by studying cancer risk in individuals with PD, as well as their close and distant relatives." The Utah Population Database (UPDB) includes birth, death, and family relationship data for over 2.2 million individuals, including genealogy data from the original Utah pioneers.