Main Menu

Cancer Weaknesses Exposed by Computing


Thursday 16 October 2008


Scientists have created innovative problem-solving software that highlights the weak points in cancers' 'signaling networks', creating the possibility for new cancer treatments, according to a paper being published in Science Magazine (17 October 2008)1.


This research has identified new approaches to understanding signalling networks that underlie cancer, identifying many previously unknown key gene combinations and better explaining many that were already known.


One of the lead researchers on the paper, Dr Rune Linding at The Institute of Cancer Research in London says: "This research holds the potential for a sea-change in future research, putting a much greater emphasis on treatments that target multiple weak points in the cancer chain. We are locating the chinks in the otherwise robust armour of cancer."


All the cells in our body are controlled by billions of dynamic molecular signaling networks and it is problems in these networks that cause cancer. The networks are very adaptable and can often survive treatments that target only individual genes or proteins. However the new method uses state-of-the-art computing and genetic tools to reveal how the parts of a network relate to each other, creating the possibility for improved treatments targeting multiple genes or proteins at once.


It is the microscopic equivalent of using superior military intelligence to select multiple targets in the enemy's chains of command and supplies.


The research published in Science has been led by Dr Chris Bakal at Harvard Medical School, working in the lab of Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Dr Norbert Perrimon in Boston USA, and Dr Rune Linding at The Institute of Cancer Research in London UK. It features in both Science magazine (17 October) and in the magazine's special poster insert. The Science report follows the announcement of the underlying problem-solving 'algorithm' in the inaugural issue of Science's new sister journal Science Signaling in a research article by Dr Linding and co-workers.


The Science Signaling paper revealed that cancer-causing kinases (which cause cancer through the way they make proteins change shape) have a more general impact than regular kinases. This knowledge is vital now that the focus is broadening to targeting points across entire networks.


Much of the information used by the computers was provided by 'RNA interference'. This procedure blocked genes from working in a rapid and highly controlled way in order to explore tens of thousands of different gene combinations. Additional data was collected about the cell’s 'phosphorylation' processes, which controls how the networks behave. This information was then analysed by the bespoke software, created by Dr Linding and his team, which transforms it into hitherto unseen roadmaps of the signaling networks.


Dr Linding said: "We aim to continue developing this technology to a point where a biological sample from a patient could be used to accurately predict how their health or cancer may develop. This would significantly help in the provision of personalised treatment for individual patients. To achieve this we must create increasingly accurate models of cancer cells and their movement through the body."


Dr Linding has also been interviewed for the Science Signaling podcast as the first investigator.


- ends -


Media contact: Mike Foster on +44 (0)20 7153 5106, +44 (0)7721 747 900 or [email protected].


Editor's notes:
1 More information is available at and

  • Copies of the two science papers are available upon request.
  • Dr Flora Llense from the Institut de Biologia Molecular de Barcelona is also a key co-author of the study. Other authors’ details are given on the science paper.
  • Tools are used in this work called NetPhorest and NetworKIN. See and for more information.
  • The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. For more information visit 
  • The Institute is a charity that relies on voluntary income. The Institute is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with over 95p in every £ of total income directly supporting research.
comments powered by Disqus