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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A new analysis found unique networks of hundreds of proteins that may drive the growth of breast, head and neck cancers, according to three studies out today.

Why it matters: Cancers differ in many aspects, including their mutations. But, there are some common systems of cells involved, including protein networks, that may affect cancer growth and scientists hope to target them with therapies.

  • By better understanding protein-protein interaction (PPI) networks and their role in driving cancers, scientists can greatly expand the number of potential drug targets.
  • "PPIs are critical because they extend far beyond gene lists to define the protein biochemistry of tumor pathways and druggable targets," Stanford University School of Medicine's Ran Cheng and Peter Jackson say in a perspective piece.
  • By creating innovative methods to examine PPI data and cancers, they write, there's a greater chance of reaching "the promise of better personalized medicine identifying the relevant therapy for each patient."

The latest: The journal Science Thursday posted studies with an analysis that mapped 395 protein systems in 13 cancer types, focusing on data from studies on head and neck squamous cell cancers and breast cancers.

  • The three related papers examined how hundreds of mutations in breast and head and neck cancers affect the activity of proteins that drive the diseases.
  • They also discovered some hard-t0-detect mutations in some proteins that may affect tumor growth as well as some biomarkers that could be used in clinical sequencing panels.
  • For head and neck cancer, they found 771 PPIs, 84% of which were never reported before. The breast cancer findings include locating two proteins that affect the function of the tumor-suppressor gene BRCA1 and two proteins that regulate PIK3CA, which have been linked to breast cancer.

What they're saying: Raghu Kalluri, chairman of cancer biology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, tells Axios these studies offer "good progress" toward efforts to "identify things that were not identified before as vulnerabilities, for which there may be drugs available."

  • "Looking at how proteins interact with others, in a broad sense of a network that formed to control the fate of a cancer cell, will provide us with new insights into other proteins that could be impacted," says Kalluri, who was not part of these studies.
  • However, more validation from other groups and using genetic mouse models are needed, he adds.

What's next: Researchers will continue working on the big question: which mutations in different genes affect the interactions of proteins that drive cancer growth, Marcus Kelly, postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of one of the papers, tells Axios.

  • "We are looking at these protein systems at multiple scales. Some of these protein systems are kind of small clumps of proteins that basically always stick together, and others are these signaling pathways that involve a bunch of different proteins, handing information off to each other," he says.
  • "It's important to test those different scales because the mutations may be affecting processes on different scales as well," Kelly says.
  • See their interactive map of the protein systems here.

Go deeper

Biden rejects Trump's latest executive privilege claims

Photo: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Monday rejected two more of former President Trump's claims of executive privilege over documents that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot requested, CNN first reported.

Why it matters: Trump's legal team is seeking to block some of the panel's requests for records by invoking executive privilege, which can allow presidents and their aides to sidestep congressional scrutiny. The Biden administration has maintained that it will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Amazon warehouse workers in New York file petition to hold unionization vote

Amazon workers and their supporters rally outside the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Brooklyn, New York City, after filing a petition requesting an election to form a union. Photo: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon warehouse workers in New York City filed a petition on Monday with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a vote on unionization.

Why it matters: The move comes six months after an organizing effort was defeated at Amazon's distribution center in Alabama.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. freezes aid to Sudan over military coup

Protesting the coup in Khartoum. Photo: AFP via Getty

The Biden administration froze a $700 million aid package to Sudan after a military coup on Monday threatened to end the country's transition toward democracy.

Driving the news: At least three protesters have been killed and dozens wounded in the chaotic scenes that followed the announcements from Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling council, dissolving the government and declaring a state of emergency.