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    Cancer detection with sugar molecules

    08/14/2017

    Scientists from Würzburg have synthesized a complex sugar molecule which specifically binds to the tumor protein Galectin-1. This could help to recognize tumors at an early stage and to combat them in a targeted manner.

    Wie ein Raumschiff landet das komplexe Zuckermolekül (bunt) passgenau auf dem Tumorprotein Galectin-1, das hier wie ein Meteorit aussieht und in schwarz-weiß dargestellt ist. (Bild: AK Seibel, VCH-Wiley)
    Like a spaceship, the complex sugar molecule (coloured) lands exactly on the tumor protein galectin-1, which here looks like a meteorite and is shown in black and white. (Picture: Workgroup Seibel, VCH-Wiley)

    Galectins are a family of proteins that have become a promising source of cancer research in recent years. A representative thereof is galectin-1. It sits on the surface of all human cells; on tumor cells, however, it occurs in enormous quantities. This makes it an interesting target for diagnostics and therapy.

    "Among other things, it is known that galectin-1 hides the tumor cells from the immune system," explains Professor Jürgen Seibel of the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany. Recent studies have shown that when Galectin-1 is blocked, the immune system can recognize the tumor and attack it with T cells.

    Sugar molecule with docking station

    No wonder, therefore, that galectin-1 has become a major focus of research. Seibel and his colleague Dr. Clemens Grimm is interested in a very specific section of this protein, the so-called carbohydrate recognition domain. They have now designed a complex sugar molecule that fits perfectly into this domain, as the scientists report in journal "ChemBioChem".

    "We have equipped the sugar molecule with a docking site, for example, to connect it with a fluorescent dye or an drug," says Seibel. In addition, the scientists have described the binding of their molecule to galectin-1 with high-resolution X-ray structure analyzes.

    "Our findings can serve the development of high-affinity ligands of the protein Galectin-1 and thus of new drugs," said Clemens Grimm.

    Quick test for Galectin-1 in progress

    Now the JMU scientists are working on a rapid test for the detection of galectin-1. It is designed to enable early detection of tumors such as neuroblastoma. For the future, Seibel's team would like to expand the sugar molecules into a kind of shuttle system that allows pharmaceutical agents to be transported directly to the tumors.

    “Exploring the Structural Space of the Galectin-1–Ligand Interaction”, Nadja Bertleff-Zieschang, Julian Bechold, Clemens Grimm, Michael Reutlinger, Petra Schneider, Gisbert Schneider, Jürgen Seibel, ChemBioChem, 4. August 2017, DOI: 10.1002/cbic.201700251

    Contact

    Prof. Dr. Jürgen Seibel, Institute of Organic Chemistry, JMU, T +49 931 31-85326, seibel@chemie.uni-wuerzburg.de

    Dr. Clemens Grimm, Institute of Organic Chemistry, JMU, T +49 931 31-84031, Clemens.Grimm@biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de

    By Robert Emmerich

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