Toolkit underway at WashU may give researchers insight into cancer

By studying the effects of a biochemical process on protein function, Kristen Naegle, a biomedical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, hopes to identify new therapeutic interventions for cancer.

Kristen Naegle
Kristen Naegle

Kristen Naegle, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, has received a three-year, $610,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute to create a toolkit that will allow biomedical engineers to study the effects of tyrosine phosphorylation, which becomes dysregulated in cancer. The toolkit would be a fast, inexpensive and accessible way for researchers to produce phosphorylated and soluble proteins compared to current methods.

Phosphorylation is a process through which a phosphate group is added to a protein by an enzyme called a kinase. It is important in regulating cell signaling but is difficult to study, Naegle said.

The funding will allow Naegle’s lab to compare the function of phosphorylated forms of protein domains that are involved in signaling networks with an unphosphorylated form and study their relation to cancer.

“We see these phosphorylation sites popping up in cancer and see them regulated by drugs we give to cancer patients,” she says. “It suggests that phosphorylation of these domains is involved in cancer progression. There are enough cancer patient samples to suggest that this is going to be relevant to human health as well as to basic human development.”

Naegle has a patent pending on the technology and is working with the university’s Office of Technology Management.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 98 tenured/tenure-track and 38 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.