October 1, 2021

Long-term collaboration introduces a map to guide revolutionary cancer research

This week, a group of scientists at UC San Francisco and UC San Diego published a trio of studies in which they introduced and applied a novel approach to cancer research and treatment. These scientists are part of the Cancer Cell Map Initiative (CCMI), an interdisciplinary group started by Nevan Krogan in collaboration with Trey Ideker at UCSD. The CCMI brings together scientists from multiple disciplines who span chemistry and structural biology, as well as basic and translational research. This most recent wave of studies is one example of the innovative approaches to cancer research the CCMI has been able to achieve through this collaboration.

In these studies, scientists led by Nevan Krogan and Trey Ideker introduce a new approach to cancer research: a map to discover how cancer mutations impact protein activity to drive disease. They call this map NeST (Nested Systems in Tumors), and it represents a new frontier in cancer research. Rather than looking at the genetic mutations that drive cancers, NeST allows scientists to look at the downstream effects of those mutations. In this way, they can see how and why certain mutations drive cancer, and identify better therapeutic treatments based on this new knowledge.

Another feature that sets these studies apart is the scale of computational analysis involved. These three studies represent an enormous computational effort, requiring the resources of multiple collaborators across different specialties. Ongoing collaborations like the CCMI allow researchers to build capacity in their work together, and facilitate large-scale efforts to tackle increasingly complex problems like this most recent set of publications. Nevan Krogan commented on the importance of capacity building for this interdisciplinary research: “We’re not only making connections between different genes and proteins but between different people and different disciplines. Those collaborations have built up an infrastructure that allows them to integrate an array of types of information and push the boundaries of what’s possible in applying data science to complex diseases.”

The strength of long term collaborations like the CCMI is on full display in the set of three papers in Science this week, which simultaneously introduce the NeST approach and apply it in two contexts to reveal new therapeutic insights. Krogan shared his optimism about the ability of this new approach to be a gamechanger in cancer treatment: “We’re in the perfect position to take advantage of this revolution on every level. I couldn’t be more excited than I am right now. We can do such damage to cancer.” To read more about the NeST approach, see the QBI’s Press Release on the Science studies, and visit the CCMI website to learn more about the group’s ongoing research efforts.

by Leila Shokat