Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

EpCAM Biology at Structural Level as a Foundation for Efficient Tumor Targeting

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
1.05.00  Natural sciences and mathematics  Biochemistry and molecular biology   

Code Science Field
B000  Biomedical sciences   

Code Science Field
1.06  Natural Sciences  Biological sciences 
EpCAM, CD326, Trop, cancer, cysteine cathepsin, proteolysis, structure, alpha­-actinin, claudin, small-molecule drugs, molecular sensors
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (9)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  08327  PhD Kristina Djinovic Carugo  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  350 
2.  36808  PhD Aljaž Gaber  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  84 
3.  07802  PhD Tamara Lah Turnšek  Biology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  1,023 
4.  03422  PhD Brigita Lenarčič  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Head  2016 - 2018  338 
5.  32112  PhD Martina Lenarčič Živković  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  61 
6.  21397  PhD Helena Motaln  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2016 - 2017  208 
7.  23575  PhD Miha Pavšič  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  204 
8.  10082  PhD Janez Plavec  Chemistry  Researcher  2016 - 2018  1,272 
9.  08284  PhD Jurij Svete  Chemistry  Researcher  2016 - 2018  931 
Organisations (3)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0103  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology  Ljubljana  1626990  23,459 
2.  0104  National Institute of Chemistry  Ljubljana  5051592000  21,306 
3.  0105  National Institute of Biology  Ljubljana  5055784  13,478 
Colorectal, prostate, breast and lung cancers remain major human malignancies with respect to occurrence as well as mortality rate. Classic treatment strategies incorporate surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy while the current trends focus on targeted strategies. It has become clear that efficient targeting of cancer cells requires understanding of cellular heterogeneity and plasticity during metastatic cascade, also in the light of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transitions (EMT/MET). In the last decades, significant effort has been made in identification and detailed research of appropriate marker molecules and cancer-associated events at the molecular level. One of the molecules that received significant attention is EpCAM (CD326), a tumor-associated transmembrane antigen with cell proliferative and cell-cell adhesive properties. This stem and carcinoma cell marker is targeted by several anti-tumor therapeutic approaches, however with limited success due to limited binding to EpCAM, presumably due to variable rate of EpCAM surface recycling, association with other carcinoma-associated proteins, and accessibility due to trans-cellular oligomerization. Recently, our group made a significant advancement in the field of EpCAM structural biology by solving the crystal structure of the extracellular part of EpCAM, which enabled us to explain various aspects of its biology, however many questions remain, particularly regarding its oligomerization, association with claudin-7 into cell-proliferation enhancing signaling complexes, and the impact of cytoskeleton-tethering interaction with alpha-actinin. On these premises we build our project with the overall goal of providing an in-depth analysis of EpCAM biology, particularly in the light of epitopes available for carcinoma cell recognition and targeting, plus their alterations due to molecular events associated with carcinoma progression. Additionally, by considering small-molecule compounds aimed at EpCAM cell-proliferation enhancing oligomers and signaling, we plan to provide a complementary therapeutic option to enhance the success rate of current and yet-to-be developed EpCAM-based therapeutic/drug-delivery approaches. To fulfill the outlined aims we will tackle the research problems using a multidisciplinary approach which includes various in vitro and in vivo methods supported by extensive in silico analysis, also through collaboration with distinguished research groups from Slovenia and abroad. Furthermore, the proposed project has an applicative component through the already established link with three research groups developing anti-EpCAM binder molecules for drug delivery. We strongly believe that any novel result on the described aspects of EpCAM biology, supported by structural data, will provide excellent credentials for enhancement of existing or even design of completely new therapeutic approaches.
Significance for science
The major goal of this project is to investigate the properties of EpCAM at the molecular level. In the past EpCAM has been intensively investigated as a tumor marker in various carcinonomas, however despite significant advancement in the past years regarding its high expression on cancer cell various functional aspects of EpCAM remain unexplained. We will investigate EpCAM primarily from structural and functional aspect. Since EpCAM is a transmembrane cell-adhesion protein we will focus on its roles inside as well as outside of the cell, and on events at the molecular level within the tumor tissue during tumor progression. The data gained by our work will offer valuable new insight into the contribution of EpCAM to tumor development at different stages of tumor progression, heterogeneity and therapeutic value. Our ultimate goal is to provide solid data which will stimulate the design of novel drugs for cancer therapy.
Significance for the country
Despite this project is basic research, its results will have a direct impact on the economy as well as society. Results of the proposed project will significantly contribute to understanding of complex EpCAM functions at the molecular level in normal as well as tumor tissue. This will offer a solid basis for targeted design of drugs used to combat cancer, the leading cause of mortality in the modern world and thereby improve the quality of life. Because of this, our findings will be of direct interest to the pharmaceutical industry (e.g. Roche Diagnostics has already expressed interest in the structural and functional data on EpCAM).
Most important scientific results Final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Interim report, final report
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