Research May Lead To Customized Treatments For Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Could a future doctor's penchant for mathematical models change the way cancer and other major illnesses are treated?

"I envision a day when we will prescribe drugs to specifically treat the cellular mutations that cause a patient's disease," says Edward C. Stites, who is a medical student and PhD candidate in biophysics at the University of Virginia Health System.


Stites and fellow researchers at UVa recently developed and validated a mathematical model to understand why some mutations in a protein, known as Ras, cause cancer. Not stopping there, they also used the model to identify a drug strategy that could have more impact on cells with cancerous Ras than on cells containing healthy forms of it.

Ras is so-named because it was originally isolated from rats with sarcoma. Found in virtually all living things, it promotes cell growth and division.

Much cancer research has focused on Ras, and scientists have identified a whole family of active and inactive forms of the protein. Active Ras interacts with other proteins and creates pathways that carry "get-growing" signals between cells. Ras converts back to an inactive form when cell growth, which is a self-regulating process, halts periodically.

Genetic mutations can cause Ras to become abnormal and unregulated. When mutated, Ras stays predominately in the active form and causes uncontrollable cell growth, or cancer.