$1.2 million grant to CU-Boulder team supports promising research

By Staff

CU-Boulder scientists may get a step closer to identifying all proteins present in a single cell type thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, facilitated by the University of Colorado Foundation.

The grant will help researchers understand the complex changes within a cell triggered by disease, food, or other means, which could accelerate the development of targeted therapies for cancer, heart disease and other diseases.

"We want to learn what causes changes in cells. For example, how a cancer cell alters cellular proteins, making them different from proteins in a normal cell," said Natalie Ahn, a CU-Boulder professor of chemistry and biochemistry and one of eight project collaborators.

"Some cancers are defined by the elevation of particular proteins, and may be treated successfully by therapies that target these proteins," Ahn said. "Our goal is to analyze proteins in cells and their chemical properties, and identify those that change in cancer."

Mass spectrometry has emerged as a powerful technology for monitoring proteins within complex samples, enabling the detection of changes in protein chemistries that cannot otherwise be observed. CU-Boulder investigators were among the first to apply mass spectrometry to characterize proteins in 1993. In 1997, they developed one of the first programs in the nation to provide hands-on training in biomolecular mass spectrometry for graduate and undergraduate students.

However, no study has achieved complete identification of proteins in any cell type, tissue or fluid. The CU team will use part of the grant money to purchase a new, state-of-the-art, high-resolution mass spectrometry system.