New targets in the fight against cancer
A type of enzyme called kinases is generally believed to be among the best targets for cancer therapy. By targeting kinases that are specific to cancer cells, normal cells are left alone. Cancer therapy based on this technique is therefore far less radical for the patient than many existing cancer therapies.

With this in mind, it might be surprising that of the more than 550 kinases that exist, only a few are currently targeted in cancer therapy. This project aims to identify completely new classes of kinases involved in cancer, with a special focus on kinases involved in cell division. Once these targets are found, the search for small molecules that inhibit the kinase activity will begin. To identify truly valid drug targets, animal cancer models that very closely mimic the human form of the disease are used. The knowledge gained can then be used in new clinical applications and applied as a basis for new types of cancer therapy.

Fast facts
Full project title: Kinases in cancer
Start date: July 2007
End date: July 2011
Goal: The identification of validated drug targets for cancer therapy.
Principal investigator: René Bernards, NKI
Project size: 8 FTE's
Partners: Merck, Netherlands Cancer Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht


Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It is a generic term for a large class of diseases all having one element in common: uncontrolled division (growth) of cells. In most cases a tumor develops, which is an abnormal growth of tissue resulting from the uncontrolled division of cells. This process may be started by external agents called carcinogens or inherited genetic factors. Carcinogens can be subdivided among physical, chemical and biological carcinogens.  The most important carcinogen is tobacco smoke (chemical carcinogen), others include radiation (physical carcinogen) and infections from specific bacteria, parasites or viruses (biological carcinogens). Cancer may also be caused by random errors in DNA replication.

Cancer can affect any part of the body and the symptoms thus vary depending on the type of cancer. Most common, however, are lung, stomach, breast, colon and liver cancer. Parallel to the large variety of cancer types there is also a large variety of treatment types. The most occurring are chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Which method is chosen depends on the location and stage of the disease as well as the patient’s general health.

PhD theses from this project

Jeroen Nijwening (project T3-105)
Screening for Novel Drug Targets in Cancer

Jonne Raaijmakers (project T3-105)
Mitotic spindle organization

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