MIT tool impacts multi-billion dollar drug

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.-- MIT scientists and colleagues announce work that could impact the multi-billion dollar heparin industry and change how the FDA regulates that common anti-clotting drug. The work is the first application of a novel analytical tool announced by the same core group of researchers last fall. Other important applications promise to follow.

"Periods of great discovery in science are almost always preceded by the development of new tools," writes Professor Matthew A. Nugent of Boston University in the September 12 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His commentary accompanies two articles by the MIT researchers describing the heparin work.

The new analytical tool probes the mysterious world of complex sugars. Although these compounds have recently been shown to play important roles in processes from viral infection to tissue development, "the field has lagged far behind the mainstream work on proteins and DNA," said Ram Sasisekharan, an associate professor in the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health (BEH) and leader of the MIT team.

Thats because the complex sugars have many more building blocks than their better-known cousins, DNA and proteins, making them more difficult to study. The MIT tool is a quick, easy way to determine the structure, or order of building blocks, in these sugars (MIT Tech Talk 10/20/1999). "Once you have the sequence of building blocks for a given polysaccharide, you can start cracking its function in the body," said Professor Sasisekharan.

Similar sequencing techniques for DNA and proteins have been instrumental in shaping the biotechnology industry and have led to applications making those compounds household names. With the new tool, "we hope to articulate that these sugars are also fundamental to biology--that theyre a new and important frontier," said Ganesh Venkataraman, a research associate in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Techn

Contact: Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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