New Age Imaging Techniques Revolutionize Cancer Study

Cryo-electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy are the new names making headlines in the cancer research community as scientists look to unlock new horizons in cancer treatment.

A paper published in Nature, shows how scientists at Mayo Clinic have found out that cancer cells might strategically block the role of a particular protein to survive chemotherapy with the help of Cryo-electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Georges Mer, Ph.D, The author of the paper, said, "BRCA1-BARD1 is important for DNA repair. It has direct relevance to cancer because hundreds of mutations in the BRCA1 and BARD1 genes have been identified in cancer patients. But no one knows if these mutations, or variants of unknown significance, are cancer predisposing or not because we do not know whether the variants are located in a region of BRCA1-BARD1 that is important for function. Now because we can see how BRCA1-BARD1 works, we have a good idea of what regions of BRCA1-BARD1 are important for function."

It is understood that BRCA1-BARD1 are responsible for the repairing and maintenance of cells and the scientist suspects that by blocking this protein complex from doing its job, the cancer cells can survive.

In a complex imaging process, purified BRCA1-BARD1 are attached to nucleosomes and then flash-frozen for electron microscope imaging. Then a computerized 3D structure of the compound is generated for study. The scientists also used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to uncover the functions of the complex. Then a video was created to show how BRCA1-BARD1 works with the nucleosomes.

Dr. Mer and his team think this technique can be used to "convert several variants into cancer-predisposing variants".

"This work is also expected to have an impact on drug development in the long term because the 3D structures of BRCA1-BARD1 in complex with the nucleosome we generated may help in the design of small molecules that could, for example, inactivate BRCA1-BARD1," he added.

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