Keele scientists developing new chemical probe to study the spread of cancer cells

Keele University scientists have been awarded funding for a major new research project to investigate new methods of disrupting the spread of cancer.

Dr Gavin Miller and Professor Mike Watkinson, from Keele’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, are leading the study which aims to develop a chemical probe that can detect the activity of an enzyme which is present in higher levels during the growth of cancer cells.

It is hoped that the probe will be used to initiate new therapeutic strategies against cancer, by using it as a tool in screening for and selecting potential inhibitors of the enzyme.

The research will be funded by a £450,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC-SFI) , and conducted in collaboration with Trinity College, Dublin and the University of St Andrews.

Dr Gavin Miller said: “A key event in cancer cell proliferation is regulated by enzymes that control the extracellular surroundings of cells that are involved in this process. More specifically, enzymes that act upon important biological carbohydrate molecules, called heparan sulfates.

“We are proposing here to design and synthesise a series of molecular carbohydrate tools that would be capable of detecting the activity of one of these key enzymes, called heparanase.

“Using our knowledge of synthetic carbohydrate chemistry and molecular sensing technology we propose to build a probe that can detect the activity of heparanase, which would allow the future development of programs that use this tool to screen for and select potential inhibitors of the enzyme, providing an inroad to new therapeutic strategies against cancer.”