HEALTH WATCH: Designer Protein Could Aid Cancer Treatment

By  | 

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a protein they hope can fight cancer without toxic effects. In a paper in the most recent edition of the journal Nature, researchers report using computer programs to design a protein that they have shown in animal models to have the same ability to stimulate cancer–fighting T–cells as the naturally occurring IL–2, but without triggering harmful side effects.

"What we're doing at the Institute of Protein Design is developing methods for creating completely new proteins from scratch, and this has never really been done before. That is what allowed us in this case to make a better version of IL–2," said Director of the Institute of Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine, David Baker, PhD.

IL–2, or interleukin 2, is a potent anticancer drug, which is effective, but has side effects that limit its clinical usefulness. "What IL–2 does is to really amp up our immune system, putting everything on very high alert, kill anything that moves kind of thing," said Baker. The newly designed protein, called Neo–2/15 mimics effectiveness of IL–2 while potentially being much less toxic. Baker said, "The molecule we've designed, using computational protein design completely from scratch, interacts only with two of those targets on cells, and the one that we are leaving is the one through which it's believed many of the toxic effects are mediated."

In laboratory and animal models Neo–2/15 activated cancer–fighting immune cells, and slowed tumor growth, without the difficult side effects. Baker said this could be the first of many new drugs that have “better properties than previous drugs.” Although designing proteins from scratch can lead to other bio-superior molecules that can enhance therapeutic properties, Baker said more testing is needed in order to administer the drug on a larger scale.