A PIONEERING AWARD FOR PIONEERING RESEARCH
With the support of a recent £188,000 Pioneer Award from Cancer Research UK, Dr Katiuscia Bianchi and her team are developing an innovative method to allow researchers to screen and identify new drugs targeting a particular metabolic pathway that cancer cells use to thrive.
Established in 2015, the Pioneer Award seeks to fund “higher-risk” research ideas with the potential to revolutionise both our understanding and future approach to cancer treatment.
The science is in the detail
Based in our Centre for Molecular Oncology, Dr Bianchi’s group currently investigates the many ways that cancer cells modify their metabolism in order to grow uncontrollably, survive under different conditions and produce their own nutrients.
One way that cancer cells do this, is by increasing the number of enzymes responsible for producing the amino acid serine - a key building block for all life.
Serine is an essential ingredient in many biochemical reactions that take place inside our bodies, helping to produce the proteins, fats and vitamins critical for all our cells – something that cancer cells take advantage of to grow.
In order to target this Achilles' heel of cancer cells, several drugs blocking a key molecule involved in serine production are currently being tested. Sadly, drug resistance is often observed due to the ability of cancer cells to outsmart these drugs and adapt to adverse growth conditions.
The group is therefore investigating new approaches for targeting the serine production pathway and in order to do so, requires a new and reliable method for measuring the levels of serine inside cancer cells that is more efficient and accurate than current standards.
By developing a new combination of tools to precisely measure the amount of serine inside cells before and after treatment, they hope to identify the most effective serine reducing drugs that might be beneficial for patients in the future.