Swedish team looks at human proteome

While the mapping of the human genome provided scientists with a blueprint for understanding disease, Swedish researchers are trying to take the knowledge one step further, with the human proteome.

Mathias Uhlen, a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, is leading a 75-person research team on the project, which is funded mostly through a $30 million grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Funding from the Wallenberg foundation will take the project through four years of research.

Sweden is not the only country turning to proteins to understand disease. China is working with proteins to find the cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer in which half of the people inflicted worldwide are Chinese. Researchers in the UK, Germany, and Denmark also are studying protein array technology.

Uhlen’s team already has completed its work on chromosome 21 through a pilot project. It now is focusing on chromosomes 14, 22, X, and Y.

A human body has more than 50 million antibodies, and there are tens of thousands of variations to proteins. Uhlen has pared down his project to focus only on the 24,000 nonredundant proteins.

Like the human genome, the human proteome would become public property on a global basis, Uhlen said. But even those who mapped the human genome retained some value for themselves. The sequence is available, but not the clones that produced it. Uhlen would welcome the sharing of human proteome knowledge, but intends to use the antibodies to generate value in some way through various research collaborations.