A substantial part of what makes cancer so deadly is that the tools we have to fight specific cancers work for some cases and don’t for others. That’s why despite numerous discoveries that promise cures for the disease, we just end up with a bunch of treatments and “therapeutic options.” Certain drugs work well against certain tumors and poorly against others. Treating cancer becomes a race to find effective treatment before the disease runs its final course.
Turns out microtubule (that I do my work on!) that help cells do things like divide and move actually might be able to extrapolate fairly accurate cancer prognoses and pathology. The proteins that make them up come in numerous forms called isotypes that differ minutely. Research indicates that different isotypes actually confer different cellular functions. For example, abundance of a particular isotype of beta-tubulin makes microtubules more dynamic and lends itself to taxane resistance in cancer cells.
Groundbreaking research by French researchers at Aix-Marseille Université may provide the next step in cancer treatment. Using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of flight mass spectroscopy (quite a mouthful! MALDI TOF Mass Spec for short), they found that tubulin, the protein subunit that builds microtubules, behaves unusually in the MALDI source. The result is that MALDI can detect and quantify tubulin isotypes.
Tubulin isotype analyses are expensive and time-consuming. MALDI may offer an effective screening tool for healthcare providers.