Australian researchers report discovery of a cell receptor that could be behind diseases like leukaemia. This could in turn become the springboard for development of new treatments.
The findings, published on 8 August in the prestigious science journal, Cell
, are the result of an interstate collaboration between a team of scientists led by Professor Michael Parker, St Vincent's Institute (SVI), Melbourne and Professor Angel Lopez, Hanson Institute at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, Adelaide.
Professor Lopez said: "Leukaemia is a type of cancer where an excessive number of malfunctioning white blood cells are produced. We have established the structure of a receptor that controls the actions of a blood-forming regulator called GM-CSF."
Using leading edge technology, they have developed the first 3D image of the structure of the receptor.
Prof. Lopez said, "GM-CSF has been of interest to researchers and clinicians for many years now because its 'controller' or 'receptor', found on the surface of blood cells, is critical in regulating their many functions. In leukaemia some of the signals coming from the "receptor" are abnormal causing the blood cells to grow uncontrollably, malfunction or dangerously persist past their use-by-date."
Professor Parker said: "Because our discovery shows precisely what the receptor looks like and also how it works, we can now begin to design new drugs to rein in the deadly abnormal blood cells. At the moment many leukaemias are treated with chemotherapy that destroys the diseased blood cells and bone marrow as well as normal cells. We hope that this discovery will lead to targeted therapies, more specific to the malfunctioning cells seen in diseases such as leukaemia."
"To maximise the drug development opportunities of this discovery both Institutes have recently signed an agreement with biopharmaceutical company CSL Limited. Under the agreement the Institutes will work with CSL to discover and develop new therapeutic antibodies," he continued.
Professor Andrew Roberts from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Royal Melbourne Hospital said: "This is a major step forward. Abnormal GM-CSF signalling is pivotal to a variety of serious and difficult-to-treat diseases. With this discovery, rational design of targeted therapies can now be accelerated greatly."
SVI Director, Professor Tom Kay, said: "SVI's Australian Cancer Research Foundation Rational Drug Discovery Facility, Michael Parker and his collaborators are world leaders in their field. In the past ten years the Unit has discovered the structure of more than 30 disease-causing proteins, forming the basis for ongoing research into potential therapies. This latest discovery is very exciting."
Director, SA Pathology and Hanson Institute, Professor Ruth Salom said: "We are delighted with the resounding success of the collaboration between Professor Lopez and Professor Parker. Professor Lopez and his team lead the way in understanding how growth factor receptors signal. This is a wonderful recognition of the importance of the research and its implications for the development of new drugs."
The breakthrough can help develop drugs for asthma too, it is hoped.