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Protein models could help curtail cancer cells

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Models of a protein associated with cancer have given scientists clues which could lead to the development of new treatments to tackle the disease, it has been announced.

An interactive map of the enzyme protein kinase B (PKB), developed by charity Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute, is being used to help explain exactly how it functions in cells.

PKB is involved in the regulation of signalling pathways which control cell survival and proliferation. Scientists believe increases in activity of the molecule are one of the major driving forces behind cancer.

The model has helped expose an area on the PKB protein which can be targeted with inhibitor molecules in order to lock PKB into an inactive state. There are currently no drugs suitable for use in humans that can switch off out-of-control PKB.

Lead researcher Banafshe Larijani said: "An overactive form of PKB is observed in tumours, so finding a way to switch this enzyme off lets us, in effect, put up road blocks along routes by which cancer can develop.

"Our team has deduced for the first time the model structure of this critical protein and how it interacts with other molecules in the cell. This means we now understand how existing drugs keep it in check, giving us the information we need to develop better ones."

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