"Problems arise when the BRCA1 protein is mutated and cannot properly function with other protein complexes," Sheng said. "But until now, we haven't had the technology to directly view the structures, so we weren't able to see exactly what was going wrong."
With improved imaging techniques that Kelly's research team developed, Kelly and Sheng can now directly see nuclear protein complexes interacting with BRCA1.
"These new structural biology tools can help reveal protein interactions in a novel way," said Sheng, who has studied cancer biology without ever directly observing his research subjects at this level of detail. "Honestly, it's just cool."
Kelly and Sheng will map out the structure of BRCA1-related interactions in healthy and mutated versions of the protein and determine exactly how each operates at the molecular level.
"It's exciting," Sheng said. "This strategy of designing therapies based on the structure of the molecular process to be targeted is fairly new. Instead of simply screening for possible treatments, we're trying to create a solution to a challenge that is scientifically constrained and well defined."
This approach could be used for other cancers as well. Once Kelly and Sheng gain better insight into the molecular basis of BRCA1 mutations, researchers may have the information to develop new specific treatments for hereditary forms of BRCA1-related cancers.
"By identifying new molecular targets for BRCA1-related cancers," Kelly said, "we strive to improve the lives of women living with these mutations and to improve their treatment options long term."
|Contact: Paula Brewer Byron|