A University of Kansas researcher has made a discovery that should lead to improved treatments for prostate and breast cancer.
Emily Scott, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at KU, has provided the first experimental evidence regarding the shape of cytochrome P450 17A1 – or CYP17A1 – an enzyme that makes hormones that promote the growth of prostate and breast cancer. By defining the shape of this enzyme, Scott’s research will enable the design of more effective drugs to stop undesirable hormone production in cancer patients.
“To inhibit an enzyme, a drug needs to bind to it,” Scott said. “But without knowing the shape of an enzyme, designing a drug to bind to it is like designing a key without knowing the shape of the lock. By revealing the shape of CYP17A1, our research will enable the design of better ‘keys,’ or in this case, better drugs.”
Scott’s findings – co-authored by then-graduate student Natasha DeVore – appear this week in the online edition of Nature, the world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal. The print edition will be available Feb. 2.
Determining the structure of proteins like CYP17A1 is challenging because they are usually located in cellular membranes and tend to fall apart or stick together when scientists try to study them. Without structural information, previous research used computational studies to predict that drugs designed to inhibit CYP17A1 would orient in a certain way – specifically, parallel to a part of the enzyme called the heme.