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International Team Halfway Through Effort to Map All Human Proteins

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists involved in the Human Protein Atlas are about halfway through their effort to generate and compile data on all known human proteins, members of the team announced recently.

As of mid-November, the group of investigators from Sweden, South Korea, China, and India had reportedly characterized about 10,000 of the 20,000 predicted proteins in the human body. Using genetic data as a guide, the researchers are continuing to put together localization, functional, and other proteomic data for the resource, which they expect to finish in 2015.

"Mapping the human proteins makes it possible to fully exploit the results from the human genome project," project director Mathias Uhlén, a microbiology researcher with the Royal Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

The project, which is led by researchers at the Royal Institute in Stockholm, Uppsala University, and Lab Surgpath in Mumbai, receives funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Once complete, the atlas is expected to serve as a foundation for studies into better diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment for various human diseases.

"If we can properly identify and understand the behaviour of each of these 20,000 proteins we will unlock the code to understanding how and why diseases develop," Uhlén explained, "paving the way for more successful treatments and better diagnostic tools."

The Human Protein Atlas relies on a high-throughput, antibody-based proteomics approach in which genetic sequence information is used to find and develop antibodies against specific protein epitope signature tags.

From there, researchers can use these antibodies to look at each protein's expression, localization, and function in normal and cancerous human tissues and cell lines.

By compiling such data on all human proteins, those involved in the study hope to create a resource that can eventually be used to help diagnose disease earlier and treat it in a more targeted manner.

For instance, they explained, improved understanding of the human proteome could uncover biomarkers and/or protein changes associated with specific diseases and treatment responses. Moreover, understanding protein patterns in healthy and diseased cells might provide hints leading to new treatment options.

About 100 full-time employees in Sweden and Asia are reportedly working on the Human Protein Atlas, mapping about 2,400 proteins each year.

Data from the project is being made freely available to other researchers through the project's website. Additional information on the Human Protein Atlas is set to appear in Nature Biotechnology early next month, according to a release from Stockholm-Uppsala Life Science.