Science - July 27, 2017

Shedding light on how proteins bind (video)

Vincent Koperdraat

Researchers at Wageningen University & Research, the University of Amsterdam and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf have managed to map how proteins bind with one another in a living organism. The study opens possible avenues for new approaches in cancer research.

© Ikram Blilou

Biologist Ikram Blilou at the Wageningen Plant Developmental Biology chair group headed the 11-year study, the results of which were published this summer in Nature. ‘For the first time now, we can precisely monitor protein binding in a living organism and under normal physiological conditions. This binding determines to a large extent what a cell will become in the future.’

In a first in this field, the researchers implemented the imaging technique FRET-FLIM in a living multicellular organism to visualize protein interactions by marking the relevant proteins with genetically coded fluorescent reporters, and determined the relevance of these interactions through genetic studies.

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Blilou would certainly not claim that her research is the starting point for combatting or preventing cancer. That would be oversimplifying things. However, she does hope that the work will have an impact on the molecular study of protein-protein interactions during cancer progression.

FLIM-FRET imaging is not only a powerful, quantitative and non-invasive tool for screening the presence of tumours in vivo, but will also allow optimization of targeted therapeutic systems based on receptor-ligand mediated bindings in cancer cells.

Blilou has an urgent message for the scientific community and funding agencies. ‘Fundamental research is increasingly being neglected, We must remember that applied science is only possible because it was preceded by fundamental research.’