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Cow, pig proteins shed new light on diseases

Proteins that help regulate cells’ functions in cattle and pigs may open a new window on how animal and human diseases work and could potentially lead to new treatments.

Researchers at the Saskatoon-based Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan announced Tuesday they have developed a new tool, called a species-specific peptide array, that allows them to better study the function of animal cell proteins called kinases.

“While only a small percentage of human genes code for protein kinases, mutations in many of these genes are at the root of many human diseases,” VIDO said in a release.

The new tool, which the researchers describe in a new article in the journal Science Signaling, may help shed light on the cellular actions of cancer, researchers said, and has already allowed a closer look at Johne’s, a cattle disease possibly linked to Crohn’s disease in humans.

VIDO says some drug companies have directed 50 per cent of their research and development funding to studying kinases. Targeting kinases can completely alter cell function or turn off cell function that’s out of control.

Mice have been the default model for the past 30 years of kinase research. However, “it turns out that mice are different enough from humans that a lot of the results in mice don’t translate to humans,” VIDO project leader Scott Napper said in the release.

“A number of diseases can be effectively treated in mouse models, but that doesn’t mean we’re making headway with humans.”

But the VIDO team found that the new peptide array — a glass slide, with segments of protein molecules affixed to it — helps reveal the “kinome” (the protein kinase complement of the human genome) of other animals, such as cows and pigs.

Communication pathways

Cattle and pigs have been shown to more accurately replicate the workings of human disease and immunity than mice, but researchers have until now been short on information about the “kinome” of these animals.

Scientists will now be able to better understand cell communication pathways in humans and animals, co-investigator Philip Greibel said in the release. “This technology will allow us to test a hypothesis and very quickly validate the results.”

“We can now do a very rapid screening of the kinases, of which there are hundreds in a cell, and quickly identify which are the key regulatory proteins for any one cell function such as cell division or cell death,” Napper said.

“Knowing how bacteria or viruses evade the immune defenses of host cells will allow us to develop potential therapeutic interventions such as drugs or vaccines.”

VIDO, whose project received funding from Genome Canada, the Beef Cattle Research Council and Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund, said it hopes to offer the new peptide array as a commercially available kit.

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