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New technique could transform research into ageing and cancer

Surrey researchers have been awarded £163,000 funding to develop a cheaper, faster and more accurate method for analysing protein synthesis in cells.

To function correctly, each cell in the body depends on thousands of proteins doing their jobs in the right place and at the right time. When proteins are made in the wrong place and at the wrong time, it can cause the cell to malfunction, and ultimately lead to the development of disease.

Currently, analysis of the translatome – the totality of proteins formed by translation of mRNA – is an expensive and complicated process requiring specialist equipment and millions of cells.

Professor Andre Gerber, Professor of RNA Biology, and postdoctoral researcher Dr Helen King, in collaboration with Dr Subrayal Reddy and Dr Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer, are working to develop a fast and reliable new method for translatome analysis that would require only a small number of cells. This would make it easier to study the changes that occur in the translatome during ageing and the development of diseases such as cancer.

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the new technique involves the capture of ribosomes – the protein production machine – from cellular extracts by affinity purification, followed by the investigation of the associated RNAs with standard transcriptomics tools such as next-generation sequencing.

Professor Gerber said, “The establishment of a fast and reliable method for analysing a small number of cells would enable the investigation of previously unexplored areas of biology and medicine, and we are confident that our new method will be applicable to numerous fields of research.

“Since there is plenty of biochemical and genetic evidence that connects ageing with protein synthesis, our pioneering study may shed light on entirely novel aspects that control aging, and could mark a starting point for further investigations to detect differences between the translatome of healthy age-matched and age-related models of disease, such as Alzheimer’s.”

Learn more about our Computational and Systems Biology Research Group and programmes in the field of Biosciences and Medicine.

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