Scientists mapping building blocks of life

October 18th, 2008 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 18 (IANS) An atlas that pinpoints the locations of thousands of protein in tissues and cells would help in a better understanding of the molecular basis of diseases like cancer.Mathias Uhlén of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who is leading the mapping project, said: “We are trying to map the building blocks of life”.

“To get an idea of how far we have come, in our first year we produced on antibody,” said Uhlén. “This year we are hoping we can make 3,000.” The programme was launched in 2003, and with sufficient funding the first full version of the atlas could be available by 2014, Uhlén believes.

The team has so far mapped the location of around 5,000 proteins in human cells and tissues. The researchers are also investigating whether certain common cancers - colon, prostate, lung and breast - have different protein profiles.

In this way new ‘biomarkers’ could be identified - molecules which indicate that a tissue or cell is in a diseased state, which could alert doctors to the early stages of a disease.

The protein atlas team first uses the human genome - the sequence of all the 20,000 or so genes in human cells - to encode individual proteins. They then develop ‘antibodies’ - protein molecules that recognise specific targets - against each of these proteins.

Uhlén was describing the human protein atlas at the European Science Foundation’s (ESF) IIIrd Functional Genomics Conference in Innsbruck, Austria early this month.

The Innsbruck meeting brought together more than 450 scientists from across Europe to discuss recent advances in the role of functional genomics in disease, according to an ESF release.

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