Aberdeen University looks for breast cancer drug in shark blood

11 October 2013

AICR, the Scottish cancer research charity, has awarded biologists from the University of Aberdeen a grant of over £200,000 to test if an antibody found in shark blood can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

The three-year study will investigate if shark IgNAR antibodies can block two molecules found on the surface of cancer cells, called HER2 and HER3, that signal them to grow and divide. The research could pave the way for the development of new drugs to fight breast cancer.

Around one in four women with breast cancer have a type referred to as HER2-positive breast cancer, where a very high level of HER2 is found on the surface of cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancer can be successfully treated with drugs, however resistance to treatment is an increasing problem.

Dr Helen Dooley, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences who is leading the study, said: “IgNAR antibodies are interesting because they bind to targets, such as viruses or parasites, in a very different way to the antibodies found in humans. They can do this because their attachment region is very small and so can fit into spaces that human antibodies cannot. We believe we can exploit the novel binding of IgNAR and use it to stop HER2 and HER3 molecules from working, and prompting cancer cells to grow and divide.

“With the funding from AICR we can begin to explore the potential of IgNAR as a future treatment for breast cancer. This is only the first step in a very long process but if our hypothesis holds true we hope to develop new anti-cancer drugs based upon these unique shark antibodies.”


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