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Researchers at the Universities of York and Leiden have pioneered a technique that uses fluorescent imaging to track the actions of key enzymes in cancer, genetic disorders, and kidney disease. Scientists hope this new development will aid drug design for new anti-cancer, inflammation, and kidney disease treatments. It will also provide diagnostic tools for disease identification and allow medical professionals to measure the effectiveness of drug treatment regimes in an easy laboratory manner.

Studying heparanase – a key enzyme in the development and metastasis of human cancers – scientists unveiled new fluorescent imaging agents that detect enzyme activity in healthy and diseased tissues. Heparanase is a long-studied protein in human tissues involved in breaking down the complex sugars of the "extracellular matrix" – the material surrounding cells that provides structure and stability.

Heparanase dysfunction is linked to the spread of cancers both through the breakdown of this matrix and via the subsequent release of "growth factors" – chemicals that promote tumor development.

Through its remodeling of the matrix, heparanase is also a key player in inflammation and kidney disease. It is, therefore, a major drug and diagnostic probe target.

Gideon Davies, Professor of Structural Enzymology and Carbohydrate Chemistry at the University of York, said: "Heparanase is a key human enzyme. Its dysregulation is involved in inherited genetic disorders, and it is also a major anti-cancer target and increasingly implicated in kidney disease.”

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