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Scripps scientists describe protein used by bacteria and cancer cells to resist drugs

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have solved the structure of a protein called MsbA that is involved in resisting antibiotics and chemotherapy.

The structure of this membrane transporter protein is described in the current issue of the journal Science. Bacteria use these transporters to nullify antibiotics, and human cancer cells have similar membrane transporters on their surfaces that undermine the potency of chemotherapy drugs.

"We actually have very good drugs to fight cancer and to kill bacteria," says Assistant Professor Geoffrey Chang, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular Biology. "[But] they can't always get in the cells to work."

The structures Chang and Research Associate Christopher Reyes solved using high-resolution x-ray crystallography reveal molecular details that could be useful for improving cancer therapy and fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Wonder Drugs and Super Bugs

At the dawn of the 20th century, bacterial infections accounted for several of the leading causes of death in the United States. Then came the antibiotic revolution. Antibiotic "wonder drugs" toppled tuberculosis (TB) and typhoid fever, controlled cholera and gonorrhea, reduced staphylococcal dysentery, and lowered the incidence of many other pandemic bacterial infections. These antibiotics are basically natural chemicals (or derivatives of natural chemicals) produced by other bacteria or fungi in the environment to kill off the competition. Scientists in the last century have discovered a number of these natural "antibiotic" products that have been used as the basis for treating bacterial infections.

By the middle of the century, the threat posed by many types of bacteria seemed to be waning. Bacterial infections that once topped the list as leading causes of death in the United States were no longer among the top ten. The average life expectancy in the United States soared from 47.3 years in 1900 to
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Contact: Jason Bardi
jasonb@scripps.edu
858-784-9254
Scripps Research Institute
12-May-2005


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