CAMBRIDGE, MA, July 27MIT researchers have developed a model that could predict how cells will respond to targeted drug therapies. Models based on this approach could help doctors make better treatment choices for individual patients, who often respond differently to the same drug, and could help drug developers identify the ideal compounds on which to focus their research.
In addition, the model could help test the effectiveness of drugs for a wide range of diseases, including various kinds of cancer, arthritis and immune system disorders, according to Douglas Lauffenburger, MIT professor of biological engineering and head of the department. Lauffenburger is senior author of a paper on the new model that will appear in the Aug. 2 issue of Nature.
The model is based on similarities in the signaling pathways cells use to process information. Those pathways translate cells' environmental stimuli, such as hormones, drugs or other molecules, into action.
"Cells undertake behavioral functions-proliferation, differentiation, death-in response to stimuli in their environment," said Lauffenburger. "The signaling pathways are the biomolecular circuits that process that information from the environment and regulate the mechanisms that execute the behavorial functions."
The pathways work via a series of signals in which proteins, known as kinases, activate other cell machinery to achieve a specific result, e.g., expression of certain genes, or actions of cytoskeletal proteins. While the same stimuli can produce diverse responses in different types of cells, the researchers believe they can use the same core pathways to achieve various end results.
Lauffenburger compared a cell's strategy to playing a piano: Just as there are 88 keys that can be played in a vast number of combinations to produce different melodies, cells can use their multiple pathways together in many different combinations to produce different behaviors.
Contact: Patti Richards
Massachusetts Institute of Technology