Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a protein that appears in large quantities in tumor cells of a variety of cancers, helping them grow and proliferate within the body. Being able to tell whether potential drug compounds are having an effect on EGFR may go a long way in the fight agains cancer. Visualizing the activity of EGFR, though, has been a challenge since they’re found within cell membranes and are therefore hard to see with traditional means.
Researchers from University of Akron have now reported in the journal Cell the ability to see clusters of EGFR within membranes using a new laser based photon-counting technique that overcomes limitations of traditional microscopy.
“We can directly observe protein clusters, in a living cell membrane, that are invisible to traditional methods. This opens up the possibility to directly measure the effect of drugs on the target proteins,” Smith says.
“Another difficulty with studying EGFR is that it’s located in the cell membrane, which can be thought of as a fence line that defines the cell boundary, but in reality it is more like an untamed hedge row,” says Smith, explaining how the new laser-based microscope technique overcomes that obstacle and allows scientists to study, in real time, how EGFR works in healthy cells and also how it malfunctions in cancer cells.
Smith’s subsequent work studying the interaction of drugs with the targeted EGFR “will significantly improve drug discovery, which too often relies on indirect measure of efficacy,” he says.