More than 2% of the human genome is claimed by genes encoding proteases, or protein-degrading enzymes. A diverse family of more than 550 members, human proteases perform a raft of functions in cells, from recycling damaged proteins to regulating signaling and growth. So it follows that proteases have been implicated in a range of human diseases, particularly cancer. Despite the appeal of proteases as therapeutic targets, few protease inhibitors have gained approval for cancer treatment, largely because the enzymes are indispensable for myriad cellular functions and targeting individual proteases is no small task. In recent years, however, proteases have become a growing focus of interest as diagnostic targets in human diseases. Moreover, preclinical findings from assorted studies suggest that, early setbacks notwithstanding, proteases can be suborned to activate or augment other approaches to combat cancer, including immunotherapies. Sangeeta N. Bhatia, a biomedical researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine, has spent years trying to unlock the latent potential of proteases for disease diagnosis, classification, and management. At a recent Wyss Institute symposium on Next-Generation Diagnostics at Harvard Medical School, Bhatia, an associate faculty at the institute, expounded on the promise of proteases as diagnostic tools for a range of indications, including cancer. Bhatia shares some of her recent findings with PNAS.
You can access her interview here.