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Cancer cell structure decoded

Wednesday November 30 2016

Swinburne researchers are part of an international team that has won a 30-year race to solve the structure of an important cancer-related molecule.

The molecule, called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), plays a fundamental role in regulating the chemical reactions that occur in living organisms in order to maintain life – or cellular metabolism.

It is implicated in almost a third of cancers including lung, breast and brain cancer.

By combining a powerful microscopy technique with long-term molecular dynamics simulations the researchers developed a model of how the EGFR appears on the cell surface and how it functions.

The discovery was made by investigators from the UK, USA and Australia, including members of Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics, Associate Professor Andrew Clayton and former PhD student Alireza Lajevardipour.

“For the very first time, we have a glimpse of how the molecule looks on the cell surface and how it works,” says Associate Professor Clayton.

“By knowing how it works in greater detail we can design improved drugs.”

The study is published in Nature Communications.

Participating institutions:


  • Central Laser Facility, Research Complex at Harwell, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Harwell Oxford

  • D E Shaw Research, New York, NY USA

  • Computational Science and Engineering Department, Science and Technology Facilities Council, Daresbury Laboratory, Warrington UK

  • Centre for Micro-Photonics, Swinburne University of Technology

  • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

  • Division of Cancer Studies, King’s College London, UK

  • Francis Crick Institute, Protein Phosphorylation Laboratory, London, UK

  • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA