The Battle against Cancer
Defects in the communication between cells have fatal consequences: All cancer types and many other diseases develop because the cellular signal transduction is disturbed. Axel Ullrich and his team study the communication system of the cell and how defects can lead to diseases. With their findings they lay the groundwork for new therapies.
For cells to proliferate and form differentiated tissue like blood vessels, nerve tissue or connective tissue, they must be stimulated by growth factors. These bind to receptors on the cell surface and initiate the cellular signal transduction. Important components of these receptors are specific enzymes, the RTKs. They are activated by growth factors and send information via signaling pathways to the cell’s nucleus. Given that receptors, RTKs and growth factors also play an important role in cancer development, Axel Ullrich and his colleagues want to decipher cellular signal transduction.
The findings of Axel Ullrich already formed the basis for the development of the first tailor-made active pharmaceutical agent with anticancer effect: Herceptin is an antibody which selectively inhibits a receptor that is excessively active in breast cancer. In this way, it interrupts the cellular signaling chain. The multispecific drug Sutent, which inhibits both cancer cells and the new formation of blood vessels, is also based on Ullrich’s research.
The search goes on
Also in the future, Ullrich and his colleagues intend to seek targets for therapies and want to promote the development of new drugs – with the help of cooperation partners from industry. The scientists’ aim is to find multispecific active pharmaceutical agents: They attack simultaneously at many different sites of the signaling network and therefore could be used against different kinds of cancer.