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Protein map

Graphical representation of a'protein map' of the human body

Picture: ediundsepp Gestaltungsgesellschaft, Munich

They determine what type of hair we have, digest our food and fight against pathogens – nothing would work without proteins in the human body. A research team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has identified 18,097 of these molecules and thus produced an almost complete inventory of the human proteome. The aim is to enable individualized treatment for all patients in the future – even for diseases such as cancer.

The path to personalized medicine

Scrutinizing saliva, blood and earwax was all part of the quest to identify the multi-talented all-rounders of the human body: proteins. The mission also involved examining a wide variety of body tissues and fluids, and even numerous tumor cells. As a result of all this, in 2014, researchers led by biochemist Bernhard Küster were able to produce the first map of the human proteome – that is, the complete set of proteins inside our bodies. They successfully identified 18.097 of these proteins, which accounts for over 90 percent of the proteome. They also located these proteins within the body and worked out how many variants each one has.

This is an important step in developing personalized drug therapies, tailored specifically to each individual patient. In recent years it has become increasingly clear that not only our genes, but also our proteins have an influence on us and our diseases. This holds particularly true for cancer. Tumors develop from aberrant body cells, which vary greatly from one patient to another. Personalized medicine thus takes account of both the patient’s genetic makeup and their proteome. In the case of cancer, initial investigations by Küster and his research team suggest that the effect of drugs on cancer cells varies between people – precisely due to differences in proteins.

“If we can establish the protein profile of a tumor, for instance, we could administer drugs in a much more selective way in the future.”

Portrait Bernhard Küster

Bernhard Küster, Professor of Proteomics and Bioanalytics at TUM

Picture: Filser

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