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Laser-pulse technique could aid drug design

DENVER -- Discovery of drugs to treat generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures (GEFS), a genetic disorder that affects 4 million Americans, could now advance more rapidly, predicts a Cornell University biochemist.

George P. Hess, professor of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., invented a laser-based technique to study signal transmission between cells of the nervous system. The same technique, called laser-pulse photolysis, already has identified a cocainelike analog compound to block the effects of cocaine poisoning on the nervous system, he says.

Hess discusses his laser technique, which could enable drug design and testing for a variety of neurological disorders, in a press briefing scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15, at 1 p.m. Mountain Time in Room C 110-112 of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver. Later, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, Hess will speak in a Feb. 16 session titled "Shining Light on Signal Transmission Between Cells of the Nervous System."

"Mechanism-based drug design can proceed more rationally, knowing the exact roles and timing of all the chemical players at the junctions between neurons and muscle cells or between neurons and other neurons," Hess says. The recent discovery of cocaine analogs, one application of the laser-pulse photolysis technique, will be reported in the scientific literature, Hess says, adding: "These compounds are not ready for clinical use, but they do provide a lead for pharmaceutical development."

Laser-pulse photolysis allows neuroscientists to look at entire ensembles of molecules -- not just single channels or single molecules -- during split-second chemical reactions that relay electrical signals through the nervous system, Hess explains. "These reactions can be over and done in 0.3 millisecond. To observe them in detail, we need to equilibrate [balance] the receptor with the neurotransmitter in much shorte
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Contact: Roger Segelken
hrs2@cornell.edu
607-255-9736
Cornell University News Service
15-Feb-2003


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