Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have camels and llamas to thank for their development of a new cancer treatment that is highly selective in blocking the action of faulty matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs are a group of 26 closely related proteinases (enzymes that break down other proteins) that are essential in tissue regeneration and other normal cellular processes. However, when a tumor grows, certain MMPs are over-produced, allowing cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body. In research published online on December 13, 2016 in PNAS, Xin Ge, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering in UCR's Bourns College of Engineering, and his colleagues describe the development of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies that are highly selective for MMPs, meaning they can bind to a specific MMP and block its activity without affecting other MMP family members. The creation of these human antibodies was inspired by antibodies found naturally in the camelid family of animals, which includes camels and llamas. The results could lead to new treatments--not only for a variety of cancers--but also for other diseases that arise from faulty proteinases, such as Alzheimer's, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. For more than 20 years, scientists have been developing drugs that block faulty MMPs in order to stop cancers from starting and spreading. But clinical trials on a variety of promising small molecules have failed--largely because they lack the specificity needed to target faulty MMPs while still allowing "good" MMPs to perform their regular cellular duties.
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