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Video: Innovative experiment gives new understanding of key cancer protein

Fiona Rowan on an innovative experimental technique for studying enzyme functions from The Institute of Cancer Research on Vimeo.

A PhD project by a student at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, has made an important discovery about a protein involved in different types of cancer.

In the study, published in the journal ACS Chemical Biology, student Fiona Rowan used an innovative experimental technique to modify specific amino acids of a protein called Aurora-A in order to study their influence on protein structure and function. She showed that two separate ‘activation sites’ on Aurora-A control its activity in surprisingly different ways.

Importantly, Fiona demonstrated that use of an experimental technique involving a a chemical modification of specific amino acid residues could help in the study of many other proteins involved in cancer. This is likely to improve scientists’ understanding of how a healthy cell becomes cancerous, and aid discovery of new drugs that target cancer.

The study is an example of how students working on their PhD can make important discoveries that give us a greater understanding of cancer. You can watch Fiona’s thoughts on publishing her research in our video.

The project was  funded by a Wellcome Trust studentship to Fiona, alongside funding from Cancer Research UK and the Royal Society.

Aurora-A is a protein kinase that plays an important role in cell division. Cancer cells often contain high levels of the protein, and mutations of the Aurora-A gene are associated with poorer outcomes for cancer patients.

Fiona said: “I’m proud that the work I’ve been doing over the past few years has been successful, and the results have been published – it looks good on my CV, and it will help me out in my future career as a scientist.

“I’ve found my supervisors at the ICR very supportive in giving me the freedom to experiment to see where my ideas take me, and it’s been a great motivation to be surrounded by some fantastic scientists.”

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