The humble fruit fly and a grant from the AICR – the Association for International Cancer Research - are helping a leading scientist in London identify potential targets for drugs that block the spread of cancer.
In one of the first studies of its kind, Dr Buzz Baum of the UCL Branch of the global Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) is using the tiny fruit fly, Drosophila, as a simple genetic system in which to identify genes that may impact on the spread of human cancer cells.
He explains: "Long ago a cellular defence system evolved in our single-celled ancestors to protect them from viruses. This system, called RNAi, is still present today in humans, plants and animals. Recently, we have learnt how to harness this anti-viral system, so that we can use it to silence the function of any normal or mutant gene at will. This new technology has the potential to change forever the way researchers and doctors fight cancer and other diseases.
"By combining the benefits of Drosophila RNAi screens with the functional analysis in human cell culture models of metastasis, we expect to identify novel, conserved proteins involved in cell migration and invasion, some of which could prove to be good anti-cancer drug targets."
According to Dr Mark Matfield, AICR's scientific adviser: "Metastasis of tumours (the spread of cancer cells around the body) is the cause of mortality in the majority of human cancers and it is a complex, multi-step process. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie each stage is therefore an important goal for cancer scientists. Dr Baum's research builds on his earlier work when, in collaboration with others, he completed a full study of the function of every one of the fruit fly's genes in cells. This is allowing him now to compare those to similar genes in human cell lines to help him understand why some cancer cells invade and spread to other parts of the body."
Derek Napier, AICR's Chief Executive says the grant awarded to Dr Baum and worth £136,000 has been given in line with the charity's policy of funding the most exciting and novel approaches to research worldwide. "We believe it important to fund work that pushes the boundaries of science, and Dr Baum and his team are charged with tackling one of the greatest scientific challenges of all."
NOTES TO EDITORS
The Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) is a totally independent charity based in St Andrews in Scotland. It has no commercial ties, no links with any particular research institutions and no commitment to follow any particular line of research. It funds what it considers to be the best researchers and the most valuable studies, wherever they are in the world. This innovative approach to funding research has enabled AICR to contribute significantly to furthering man's understanding of cancer.
The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) is the largest international not-for-profit institute dedicated to understanding and controlling cancer. With nine Research Branches and one Centre for Clinical Sciences in seven countries, the scientific network that is LICR quite literally spans the globe. LICR has developed an impressive portfolio of reagents, knowledge, expertise, and intellectual property, and has also assembled the personnel, facilities, and practices necessary to patent, clinically evaluate, license, and thus translate, the most promising aspects of its own laboratory research into cancer therapies.
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