How do our cells know what to do and when to do it? To answer this fundamental question, biologists have learned much in searching for, cataloging and discovering the complicated interplay of the proteins within our cells. They’ve discovered that some proteins appear to control others and thus direct how a cell behaves. One protein called MYB, for example, controls how adult stem cells grow and multiply. To further study this protein and what may cause it to lead to cancer, Dr. Scott Ness, professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the UNM School of Medicine, is convening an international conference at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center July 22-23.

Ness is also director of the Keck-UNM Genomics Resource and associate director of Shared Resources at the UNM Cancer Center. His research focuses on how MYB functions inside adult stem cells.

“MYB regulates other genes,” Ness said. “It regulates many cell types like hematopoietic (blood) cells, epithelial cells and neural cells. It’s active in all cells that are dividing. But if it is mutated it becomes oncogenic.”

Mutated proteins are incorrectly-constructed proteins. The cellular process to construct a protein is complicated because several specialized proteins, along with DNA and RNA, interact. So to study MYB mutations, researchers use an arsenal of tools: powerful imaging techniques that allow them to see proteins on a cell’s surface; entire-genome sequencing that can show where changes to a cell’s DNA lurk; and high-throughput screening methods that can rapidly show a vast array of protein-protein interactions. Biologists also study the mutations in different animals, like flies.

“We think that the MYB protein is important in a variety of human cancers,” said Ness. “Adenoid cystic carcinoma is a relatively rare tumor, but in that case we know that MYB is directly affected.” So the conference will foster new joint research efforts between people around the world who study this protein by bringing them together to talk about their work. “We want to encourage new kinds of collaborations and strategies for designing ways to target MYB and to treat these kinds of tumors.”

Ssponsored by the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation and by the UNM Cancer Center, the conference goal is to forge new research collaborations focused on developing novel therapeutics targeting human MYB proteins. The meeting is sponsored by the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation and by the UNM Cancer Center.

For more information or to register, visit International MYB Conference.