faculty member Partha Roy, PhD (pictured), Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, is a member of the international team of researchers who through the University of New England (UNE), Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, has won a $252,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council for an investigation of a protein that suppresses the growth of cancers. The project, titled “Profilin: A novel target for cancer therapy,” includes the research efforts of Dr. Roy and scientists based in the United States, Denmark, and Australia.
The broad research interest of Dr. Roy's lab is to study the molecular mechanisms of cell migration. More specifically, investigating the role of profilin, an important actin-binding protein, in cell migration using breast cancer as model system. Ongoing studies focus on how molecular perturbations of profilin can be utilized to suppress invasive and metastatic potential of breast cancer cells. The laboratory is also investigating how profilin's interaction with other cellular proteins are regulated in vivo and what role they play during cell migration. These projects involve a combination of molecular biology, cell biology, biochemical, and microscopic imaging techniques. Dr. Roy will support the UNE project’s research team as an expert in controlling the expression of profilin within living cells.
Dr. Pierre Moens, the project’s chief investigator at UNE, is an expert in the use of fluorescent markers to track the movements of individual molecules within living cells. Dr. Moens explained that profilin, a protein present in every cell of the human body, is found at lower than normal levels in breast cancer cells. “And if you increase the expression of profilin to above-normal levels, you reduce the aggressiveness of the cancer,” he said. “For this reason, profilin molecules are an outstanding candidate as a target for cancer therapy.”
“We believe that the tumor-suppressing effect is due to the interaction of profilin molecules with the cell membrane,” he continued. “Our immediate aim is to understand the basic mechanism underlying this effect. After that, it could be possible to develop cancer therapies specifically targeting profilin molecules – therapies so specific that they would have very few side effects.”
Professor Enrico Gratton from the University of California, Irvine, is part of the research team and a world leader in fluorescence methodology and instrumentation. Professor Gratton has developed methods of observing clusters of molecules and counting the molecules in such clusters. His work will be an essential component of the project.
Other chief investigators are Professor Glenn King from the University of Queensland and Professor Luis Bagatolli from the University of Southern Denmark. Professor King will be using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to map the area of interaction between profilin molecules and the cell membrane and Professor Bagatolli will be studying the mechanical characteristics of the membrane where this interaction occurs.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
University of New England News and Events (11/13/08)
Bio: Dr. Partha Roy