New Research Reports on New Method That Reveals Complete Set of Aberrant Signaling Pathways That Give Rise to Cancers One major obstacle in the fight against cancer is that anticancer drugs often affect normal cells in addition to tumor cells, resulting in significant side effects. Yet research into development of less harmful treatments geared toward the targeting of specific cancer-causing mechanisms is hampered by lack of knowledge of the molecular pathways that drive cancers in individual patients.

A major goal of cancer research is to replace chemotherapy with drugs that correct specific molecular pathways disrupted by cancer.” – Dr. Ari Melnick associate professor Weill Cornell Medical College Through a collaboration among Weill Cornell Medical College, the Sloan-Kettering Institute at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute, a team of scientists has now reported that a tumor-targeting compound called PU-H71 can reveal with great accuracy the set of altered pathways that contribute to malignancy.

Through nearly a decade of research, PU-H71 was discovered and refined in the laboratory of Dr. Gabriela Chiosis, associate member of the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program at the Sloan-Kettering Institute and an associate attending chemist of Memorial Hospital, Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Chiosis, who is the senior investigator in this new study, reported initial findings about the drug five years ago. Hsp90 plays an essential role in the ability of cells to tolerate stress.

The altered growth and metabolism of tumors induce a high degree of stress in these cells. To cope with this stress, tumor cells produce a special form of Hsp90 that is tuned to specially protect those proteins required for their growth and survival.

Several years ago, Dr. Chiosis partnered with Dr. Melnick to examine the effectiveness of PU-H71 in treating breast cancer and lymphomas, and they have previously reported that the drug has dramatic antitumor effects without being toxic to animals.

As a result of the drug’s success in fighting these two aggressive types of cancer, the research team received approval from the National Cancer Institute to carry out clinical trials. In their new study Dr. Chiosis, Dr. Melnick, and collaborators demonstrated that because PU-H71 binds to tumor-Hsp90, and tumor-Hsp90 binds to proteins that are required for tumor survival, it is possible to use PU-H71 as a method to “fish out” entire networks of abnormal proteins in tumor cells in an unbiased fashion, which has not been possible up until now.

Importantly, many or even most of the genes encoding proteins that maintain tumor cell survival are not mutated in tumors. Hence genetic screening would not be able to detect these networks, Dr. Melnick says. “The value of this method is that it’s the first time you can go and probe the functional proteome, or the whole set of proteins that are important to maintaining the tumor.”

The researchers experimentally confirmed that proteins from these pathways are crucial for cancer cell growth, division and survival, suggesting that their approach can be used to accurately identify Bcr-Abl-related protein networks. Moreover, the same experiments identified many proteins not previously known to drive chronic myeloid leukemia cells.

One example of such a protein was CARM1, a regulator of gene expression, which the investigators showed maintains survival of these tumor cells. Based on these findings, Dr. Melnick and Dr. Chiosis recently received a multi-investigator collaborative grant from the National Cancer Institute to use this new PU-H71 proteome method to identify the proteins that maintain the survival of lymphoma cells.

This funding is an example of how collaboration between investigators and institutions can synergistically accelerate the pace of biomedical research.

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