Thanks to innovative technology, researchers from the University of Cambridge (Great Britain), together with colleagues from other international institutions, have managed to create a detailed genetic map of the proteins founds in plasma, i.e. in the liquid part of blood: a major result, considering that these proteins are disrupted in many diseases, and are the direct targets of many drugs. Yet, despite the highly significant role played by these proteins, until now they have always been studied much less than the DNA (the genetic code) that “expresses” them. In fact, this was also because the equipment available made the analysis of proteins a slow process. However, a new system, known as SOMAscan, has now made it possible to “measure” large quantities of proteins much faster.
As written in the journal Nature, researchers examined the blood of 3300 donors, identifying 1478 proteins, encoded by 1927 genes (the number of genes does not coincide with the number of proteins because – researchers have discovered – the same protein can be expressed, sometimes, by different DNA traits, as well as in different quantities). The study conducted by Cambridge researchers has yielded a four-fold increase in the knowledge of the quantity of information found in the proteins in plasma. And this database may become a very valuable departure point for identifying the pathway that leads several types of normal proteins to change, opening the doors to different diseases. In particular, the researchers focused their attention on eczema and Crohn’s disease, but they also discovered, for example, that a protein called MMP12, which has always been associated with several kids of lung disease, is also conversely linked to heart disease and strokes: high levels of MMP12 appear to reduce the risk of lung disease, but increase the risk of heart problems. This information, of course, must be considered very carefully by those studying the drugs targeted at MMP12.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.