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Less fat makes better process for designing new drugs

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Biochemists at Ohio State University and their colleagues have overcome one of the major obstacles to drug design, by trimming some of the fat from a molecular sponge that scientists use to study proteins.

In the December issue of the journal Structure, the biochemists report using their method successfully in experiments with two common cellular proteins. The results suggest that scientists could one day use the method as a step in designing drugs for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's, and tuberculosis.

Proteins are part of the cell membranes of living organisms, and they are the gatekeepers that regulate what enters and leaves a cell, explained Martin Caffrey, professor of chemistry at Ohio State. To design a drug that will target a particular protein, scientists need to view the protein's structure in detail, and that involves removing the protein from the cell membrane and forming it into a crystal that can be viewed using x-rays.

It's not easy to form a pliable protein into a rigid crystal, and scientists are working to develop reliable tools to do the job.

"Crystallizing proteins is considered an art. We want to turn it into a science," Caffrey said.

One promising tool is a slab of intertwined lipid and water molecules -- a kind of wet, fatty sponge that soaks up thousands of proteins at once and draws them together into crystals.

The sponge is full of watery pores that offer surface area for chemical reactions. One gram of the stuff has more surface area than a football field.

The sponge method, called "cubic phase," or "in meso," crystallization, has been around since the 1990s. But because most proteins are difficult to crystallize, scientists have only been able to study a handful of proteins this way.

In Structure, Caffrey and his coauthors describe how they improved upon the method. They built a sponge out of smaller fat molecules t
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Contact: Martin Caffrey
Caffrey.1@osu.edu
614-292-8437
Ohio State University
7-Dec-2004


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