Dr Khaled and his team are studying how proteins interact with triple negative breast cancer cells

Dr Khaled and his team in the lab

Project details

Researcher: Dr Walid Khaled

Location: University of Cambdrige

Project title: Understanding how BCL11A protein interacts with other proteins in triple negative breast cancer cells

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

Triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of the disease that accounts for around 15% of all breast cancers, but currently lacks targeted treatments like those available for other forms of the disease. We need to find out how these cancers develop and survive, and what makes cancer cells different from non-cancer cells, in order to find much needed treatments that can target triple negative breast cancer without damaging healthy cells. 

The science behind the project

Scientists already know that the protein BCL11A is present in large amounts in triple negative breast cancer cells, and that it is linked to development and survival of the tumours. It is also important in the immune system however, which means we can’t just block the action of BCL11A, as it would have adverse effects on the immune system. To solve this problem, Dr Khaled and his team are investigating the ways in which BCL11A interacts with other proteins specifically in the breast cancer cells, with a hope to target those instead.

One of the proteins that BCL11A interacts with in the cancer cells works alongside it to affect the amount and activity of other proteins in the cell. In this project, Dr Khaled wants to find out exactly how these proteins interact, and what the consequences of this are for the other proteins in the cell, in terms of tumour growth and survival. With new information about how BCL11A exerts its effects specifically in the cancer cells, he can then go on to decide if any of the proteins involved could be potential drug targets for triple negative breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

There is currently a lack of targeted treatments for people with triple negative breast cancer, and so discovering the specific differences between cancer cells and healthy cells is vital in developing ways to treat the cancer, whilst minimising harm to a patient’s normal cells. Dr Khaled’s research could provide us with a new selection of proteins that we could target, bringing us closer to developing new and effective treatments for people with triple negative breast cancer, while minimising side effects and therefore improving quality of life.

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