Studying lots of proteins at once

I read an interesting paper in Nature Methods this week called “Systems analysis of EGF receptor signalling dynamics with microwestern arrays“.  EGF stand for Epidermal Growth Factor, the EGF receptor is a small protein that “knows” when EGF is present.  Growth Factors generally make cells grow and so if your growth factors are faulty you could develop cancer.  EGF in particular is involved in some types of lung cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer.

The research is interesting because they study lots of proteins at the same time.  Nowadays it is relatively easy to study hundreds or thousands of genes at one time (often using an experiment called microarrays).  However genes make proteins and it’s much harder to study hundreds of proteins. See the Genetic Science Learning Centre to learn more about how you can Transcribe and Translate a Gene.

The normal way of studying proteins is to carry out a “western blot” (see here for a quick animation). Western blots can give you a lot of information, but you can usually only study one or two proteins at a time and it takes a couple of days to carry out each experiment.If you are interested to know how western blotting got it’s name, have a read of Southern, northern, western (and eastern?) on  BitesizeBio.

The experiment in Nature Methods allowed the scientists to study 96 different proteins at one time. They took some cancer cells, that they knew responded to EGF (responded usually means  the cell grows when EGF is present) and added different amounts of EGF to these cancer cells and measured 96 proteins to see what changed.

If you have cancer just now, this reasearch won’t change your treatment, but hopefully, in the future, we’ll be better able to understand how cancer treatments work by looking at how drugs affect lots of different proteins inside cancer cells, instead of just one or two.

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