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Bowel cancer study reveals impact of mutations on protein networks

For the first time, scientists have completed a detailed study of many of the proteins in bowel cancer cells. Scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute investigated the role proteins play in predicting how common mutations affect proteins in the cancer cells and also whether such proteins are important in predicting the cancer’s response to treatment.

The results, published in Cell Reports give scientists a better picture of the cellular processes behind bowel cancer, and could enable researchers to predict which drugs would be effective in treating different bowel cancer patients.

Every day, 110 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer. There are around 41,300 new cases of the disease each year, and it is the fourth most common cancer in the UK1.

To understand the biology underlying cancer, scientists have traditionally studied all of the cancer genes – the genome – and all of the RNA – the transcriptome – in the cancer. However, a blindspot in research has been the study of all of the proteins – the proteome – and it is the proteins that are the building blocks of cell machinery.

In the new study, scientists conducted a very deep, detailed study of the proteins in bowel cancer to investigate whether proteins play a role in predicting the effect of different drugs against the cancer. The researchers analysed 9,000 proteins for each of 50 bowel cancer cell lines.