A group of researchers at the National Center for Protein Science Shanghai has successfully unveiled the structure of a protein family that is closely linked with human cancers. The groundbreaking discovery could eventually lead to new drugs to fight the disease.
The protein family named MLL, which consists of six member proteins, has been linked with a number of serious cancers such as acute lymphoid and myeloid leukemia. The protein family can be found in different organs like the intestines, stomach and liver. For the past couple of years, researcher Lei Ming, Chen Yong and their colleagues determined the structure of this family and reviewed this activation mechanism.
"This protein, by itself, is very dynamic in solution. So it's like a mouth. It's oscillated between the open state and closed state. It must bind with other regulatory proteins to stabilize its conformation into close conformation," Chen said.
The discovery was published in the UK-based scientific journal Nature. And it is expected to become a milestone for scientists who want to use MLL as the drug target to treat certain cancers.
"Our current studies would give some explanation of how these proteins disfunction in the disease cells. It may give us some hints on drug design, on target selection," Chen said.
The discovery was the National Center for Protein Science Shanghai's biggest achievement so far since officially opening last year. The center has more than 10 teams working on projects and nearly 60 research papers have been published, including on topics like Ebola and Hepatitis C virus.