When things go right, protein production within cells operates like a well-oiled machine. But when they don’t, cellular functions can go haywire causing numerous problems within DNA or RNA transcription. That, in turn, can serve as the catalyst for cancer and other diseases. Understanding the many moving parts involved is a major challenge for researchers looking to unravel the complex processes in play. Tim Griffin and colleagues are about to make the work of identifying mutations that give rise to novel proteins — and offer a path to potential therapies — a lot easier.
Griffin and University of Minnesota colleagues recently received funding from the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Health to develop a platform for cancer researchers that integrates genomic, proteomic and metabolomic data in a single “multiomic” platform.
The project builds on the group’s Galaxy-P platform, which allows researchers to simultaneously characterize the human genome (genomics) and the numerous proteins that genes produce to carry out biological functions (proteomics). By integrating and analyzing genomic, proteomic and other types of “omic” data, cancer researchers will be better able to track down novel proteins resulting from mutations.
“Our goal is to give users of the platform the ability to take their research result and in one click interface with a database that tells them all they need to about a gene mutation as they look for correlations with specific types of cancer,” says Griffin. "A protein gone bad could be a target for therapy. Or it could be a biomarker of the cancer.”
The platform is unique in that it allows for a more holistic view of disparate types of data. It will allow researchers to evaluate a particular mutation within a broader context of cellular functionality and find patterns in the data to pursue for future cancer research.
“Everyone is looking at how to use systems biology approaches to bring together these different types of information,” says Griffin. “ A complete integrative genomic, proteomic workflow is one piece that we’re building toward, and the pieces are almost all there to make that happen.”
Once the new platform is in the hands of cancer researchers, it could help them not only identify meaningful patterns but also set the stage for follow-up studies focusing on whether particular proteins have a driving role in the way a particular cancer manifests and progresses.
“That’s where it starts to hit home,” says Griffin. “My hope in the application of this platform is that it helps researchers real discoveries and hopefully say ‘Well maybe this is a protein we need to be looking at or targeting with a drug.’” - Lance Janssen