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Future Treatments May Target Shared Biological Networks


Tuesday 11 August 2009


Multiple complex human diseases can be traced back to errors in the same ancient biological networks, according to new research published as the cover story in the journal Science Signaling.


Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research in the UK, and in Canada and Switzerland found that diseases including cancer, diabetes, HIV and Alzheimer’s were all linked to protein interactions that have been conserved through evolution.


Lead author Dr Rune Linding, head of the ICR’s Cellular and Molecular Logic Team, says the findings are exciting because it means drugs developed to treat one disease may help patients with other diseases.


“This raises the possibility that we may be able to treat cancer patients with drugs already in use for other diseases, such as diabetes for example. Alternatively, if researchers can develop drugs that specifically targets one of the biological networks we found, it potentially could work for a range of different diseases.”


The scientists made the discovery while using sophisticated computer modelling to examine the transitory interactions between proteins – similar to transient social interactions between people – in humans and early organisms.

The researchers’ theory was that interactions that survived through 600 million years of evolution must be crucial for cells to function. They identified hundreds of examples of protein interactions that humans share with our early ancestors of yeasts, worms and fruit-flies, and further analysis showed that a disproportionate number of the genes coding for these protein interactions can cause or exacerbate disease when they malfunction.


Interestingly, several of these genes were linked to more than one different type of disease – for example, cancer and HIV infection; the kinase AMPK1 was linked to cancer and insulin resistance (linked to type two diabetes); and other proteins linked to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV.


Dr Linding says the idea that multiple diseases could be targeted by the same drugs is also supported by a recent study from the US showing that type 1 diabetes can be suppressed by a cancer drug.


“The next step is to study these biological networks in detail to see if any would be suitable as new drug targets,” Dr Linding says.


The results are being published in a special cover issue on “complexity” for Science Signaling. It follows another article by Dr Linding and colleagues in the journal Science last month which demonstrated that the cells of humans and other animals have most likely evolved to reduce their chance of trigger cancers and other diseases.



Jane Bunce or 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900


Notes for Editors:

  1. The article is available online as part of a special issue on complexity at the Science Signaling website:;2/81/ra39
  2. Dr Linding’s recent article in Science is available here:


The Institute of Cancer Research

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting-edge research. In 2009, the ICR marks its 100 years of groundbreaking research into cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic drug development team, which has developed many drugs now used as standard cancer treatments. It continues to be at the forefront of drug development, discovering an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years. In December 2008, the ICR was ranked as the UK’s leading academic research centre by the Times Higher Education’s Table of Excellence, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise. The ICR is a charity that relies on voluntary income. It is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with more than 95p in every £ directly supporting research. For more information visit

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