Moffitt researchers develop novel approach to visualize and measure protein complexes in tumors

Jan. 16, 2015

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have developed a new approach to analyze the biological processes occurring within tumors. The technique, called proximity ligation assays (PLA), allows specific protein complexes to be visualized and measured in cancer specimens. The findings were recently published in Science Signaling.

Current biomarker analysis primarily focuses on single genes or proteins. However, proteins do not function on their own; rather, they are often part of larger multi-protein complexes and can interact with many different proteins. By only using single proteins as biomarkers, clinicians may not have an accurate description of what is actually occurring within a tumor.

Moffitt researchers developed the PLA approach in cancer specimens to analyze protein complexes and allow a better understanding of the events that occur in cancer. They focused their study on the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) that is often mutated or expressed at high levels in many tumor types, including non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and renal cell carcinoma. They discovered that lung cancer patients who were treated with EGFR inhibitors and had high amounts of EGFR protein complexes had a better prognosis.

These protein complexes may become new biomarkers to help physicians diagnose and treat patients with a class of drugs called receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Protein complex analysis by PLA may also help physicians determine how patients become resistant to these drugs.

Read the study abstract on the Science Signaling website