£66,006 in autumn 2008 to the School of Biological Sciences at the UEA for a 3 year project to investigate the function of protease enzymes in breast cancer.
Proteases are proteins whose job is to cut other proteins – essentially they act like molecular scissors. It had been thought that proteases released from cancer cells were able to cut up the molecules surrounding the cells, clearing the path for malignant cells to invade neighbouring tissues. However, looking at human tumours shows that a protease known as MMP8 is in fact associated with a good outcome in breast cancer: patients whose tumours had higher levels showed less spread of the tumours to lymph nodes and improved survival.
This work has been repeated in other systems and MMP8 is now known to be a tumour suppressive protease. Its cutting action is essential for it to stop tumours spreading, so the next step is to identify what it cuts. This will help explain its action and could identify new molecules that prevent tumour spread – the main cause of cancer patient death. This project will provide 3 years support to train a PhD student in research methods, which it is hoped will lead to important new discoveries on the basic mechanisms of cancer.