Auto-inhibited regulatory proteins: New approaches to characterize and identify these important switches in cell communication

The impact of cancer on our society is enormous. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 9,300 people will die of cancer in British Columbia in 2011, with 22,100 new cases being diagnosed. Despite the many different treatment options that have been developed in the past several decades, the high death rate demonstrates that new and better therapeutic approaches are necessary. Cancer is often caused by the disruption of cellular control and regulatory mechanisms. One such regulatory mechanism known as “”autoinhibition”” allows proteins in the cell to switch their own function on or off. Genetic mutations or viral infections can result in the disruption of this autoinhibitory function, which can lead to a continuous activation of these autoinhibitory proteins. This can result in cell changes and can ultimately lead to cancer. Dr. Joerg Gsponer is taking a new approach to understanding how cancer develops and, ultimately, how it may be controlled. His research group is is aiming to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of autoinhibition with the help of computational methods. His team will develop new computational algorithms that will help identifying proteins in the cell that are regulated by autoinhibition and reveal how the autoinhibition works and how it is disrupted in the disease case. Ultimately, this will further our understanding of how cancer develops and will hopefully help to identify new drug targets for cancer therapy.