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Brookhaven scientists create new ways to tag and track molecules

UPTON, NY–Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are developing a wide array of metallic "tags" to label proteins and other molecules. These tags will expand the toolbox scientists use to decode molecular structures, diagnose and treat diseases, and trace the movement of antibodies and drugs within cells.

"These labels help us tag and see microscopic cell components, and solve the structure of molecules to see how the molecules work," says James Hainfeld, a Brookhaven biophysicist. Hainfeld is guest-editor of the September 1999 issue of the Journal of Structural Biology, which features the most current work in this field, known as heavy metal cluster labeling. The range of applications is limited only by the scientists' ability to custom-design the appropriate tag for the task.

For example, metal particles are used in home pregnancy test kits, producing the readable pink color when proteins associated with pregnancy are present. Similarly, scientists use the metal particles to track the movement of drugs within cells. A California company has used gold-labeled molecules to follow the delivery of an antifungal drug into its target cells. "By using gold labels, they were able to demonstrate the efficacy of the treatment. Otherwise you can't really see what's going on."

In another study, a metallic tag helped identify one of the key infection-initiating proteins on the surface of the Hepatitis B virus. "If you can understand where these proteins are and how they work, you can understand the virus better," Hainfeld says. That knowledge might eventually lead to ways to defeat the virus.

Tags can also be used to label the products of bioengineering and to detect the presense of antibodies, potentially increasing the sensitivity of some diagnostic techniques. Some tags might even serve as "magic bullets" to deliver cell-killing radiation doses directly to cancer cells withou
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Contact: Karen McNulty
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
9-Jan-2000


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