Tetraspanins – Preventing Infection
PETER MONK PhD
Department for Infection and Immunity
PROJECT TITLE: Investigating functional diversity in the tetraspanin family: Making a tetraspanintool-kit
PROJECT TIMESCALE: 3 years – 1 October 2009 – 31 December 2012
PHD STUDENT: Marieh Fanaei
Tetraspanins are a group of proteins found on the surface of cells including human cells. They have been linked to several human diseases including cancer, Hepatitis C and HIV-1 infection but little is known about their function. Before the Humane Research Trust became involved, tetraspanins were mainly studied using genetically-manipulated mice and with antibodies generated in animals. To get around the issues associated with these methods, we have made a set of research tools for studying tetraspanin proteins using bacteria instead of animals.
The first step was for the PhD student (Marzieh Fanaei, right) funded by the HRT to make the most important part of the protein, the ‘EC2’, for each tetraspanin – there are 33 in humans! EC2 are excellent tools for research, for example we have already shown that some EC2 can prevent HIV infection of white blood cells and Hepatitis C infection of liver cells.
The next step was to use these EC2 proteins in new ways. We have shown that they can stop white blood cells forming highly damaging ‘giant’ cells, which can damage bone in osteoporosis and cause hip implants to fail. We have also found that EC2 can act as a barrier against infection, prevent bacteria from sticking to human skin. Spurred on by these results, we are now beginning to develop a new form of treatment for hospital-acquired infections that will be effective even on bugs that antibiotics cannot clear (such as MRSA).
The EC2 proteins are now being sent to scientists around the world, to try and find out what the many members of this protein family can be used for. We have had some exciting results already but still have half the family left to test!