MolES research lab collaboration leads to cancer fighting therapy

Filed Under: BiotechNewsResearch

Results of collaborative research from the Institute for Protein Design, Stayton Lab and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published in CELL magazine.

It's been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but recent research at the University of Washington Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute may prove that close proximity is the recipe for success.

A recent cancer-fighting discovery was made possible by the group effort that combined the protein design and engineering skills of researchers working with Dr. David Baker, UW professor of biochemistry and head of the Institute for Protein Design (IPD) and the drug therapy and delivery research spearheaded by researchers working with Dr. Patrick Stayton, UW professor of bioengineering.

Together, researchers from these groups have developed a novel protein and delivery method to selectively target and suppress tumor growth in some Epstein-Barr related cancer cells. Specifically, the Baker lab created a designer protein, called BINDI, that binds to a specific Epstein-Barr virus protein. Using a newly-developed intracellular delivery system created in the Stayton lab, and by leveraging the cancer biology skill of the labs of Barry Stoddard, Oliver Press and David Hockenberry at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and William Schief, noted for his new approaches to vaccine development at The Scripps Research Institute, the new protein was shown to suppress tumor growth and prolong survival in mice.

The research is important because it demonstrates the ability of scientists to design and deliver novel proteins that work against cancer targets that reside inside diseased cells, with fewer of the effects of toxic compounds that currently harm healthy cells during some cancer treatments. Read more about the research in the June 19, 2014 edition of CELL and from the UW Health Sciences NewsBeat.

Location of related labs leads to faster results
The approach to the research was collaborative among the groups and was accelerated by the close vicinity of the research groups working on the protein design and the delivery system within the Molecular Engineering and Sciences building on the UW campus, according to Stayton, who is also the director of the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute.

"There is no doubt that the ability of the labs to collaborate in the same building was a catalyst for this exciting research that connects protein design and drug delivery," Stayton said. "Working in the same building fosters communication at the researcher level. Student researchers have more opportunities to talk with their peers, discuss their current projects and find connections with other research that is happening on the floor right above or below them. We found that they are more likely to grab a coffee or lunch together to further their conversations, which speeds up the process of learning and sharing information that leads to the design of new therapies and scientific discovery."

The joint effort featured in the CELL paper has spawned additional opportunities for collaboration. The Baker and Stayton labs are currently sharing a graduate student who is continuing on with related research in applying protein design to cancer diagnostics and therapy.

Baker emphasized that this type of research approach and shared resources will be attractive to post-docs looking to further their research and careers. The Washington Research Foundation (WRF) recently awarded $8 million to the Institute for Protein Design (IPD) to recruit top researchers who have just finished their Ph.D. They will join expert laboratories at Seattle-based institutions where they will apply protein design methods to current health, energy, and materials related research problems.

"The IPD is fortunate to be situated in Seattle with a wealth of expertise in healthcare, medicine, computer science, materials science and engineering both at the UW and at the many Seattle-based independent research institutes. The WRF-IPD Innovation Fellows program will support research partnerships between scientists like that which resulted in the BINDI protein" Baker said. "Together, we are creating a collaborative research environment that we know is attractive to world-class scholars and we are bringing that talent to the UW and Seattle."

In addition to the Principal Investigators mentioned above, the project team for this research included Erik Procko, Geoffrey Y. Berguig, Yifan Song, Anthony J. Convertine, and Yuanhua Cheng from the University of Washington; Betty W. Shen, Shani Frayo, Daciana Margineantu, and Garrett Booth from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Bruno E. Correia, and Yuanhua Cheng, The Scripps Research Institute.