Onuchic and his colleagues at the Rice-based Center for Theoretical Biological Physics set out to pinpoint the reason women who take a particular drug, thiazolidinedione, to treat Type II diabetes show a statistically lower incidence of breast cancer.
In a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the researchers identified two proteins called NEETs as prime suspects in the proliferation of breast cancer; their findings offer a possible path for the development of drugs to slow or stop its progress in patients.
“It’s a very new story we’re telling about these two proteins, which we’re now bringing to prime time,” Onuchic said.
“NEET proteins play a key role in the overall stress response of cells,” he said. “Any time you stress a system, these proteins are there to help, but in cases where cells are overcome by stress, NEETs can become highly overexpressed.
“That’s what drew our initial interest in a potential connection to cancer,” Onuchic said. “We found the NEETs were highly overexpressed in breast cancer cells. Moreover, we found a direct correlation between NEET protein levels and the overall progression of the disease.”
Onuchic, Rice’s Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is a pioneer in the theory of energy landscapes, which describes the energies at play in protein folding and other molecular-level interactions. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Download a high-resolution portrait of José Onuchic here:
José Onuchic: https://ctbp.ucsd.edu/affiliates/showperson.php?id=187
Center for Theoretical Biological Physics: http://ctbp.rice.edu
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