The future of drug development

Sep 03, 2010
The future of drug development
John Engen works with a student in his laboratory. Photo by Lauren McFalls

John Engen, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at the Northeastern University, is at the forefront of research that will advance drug discovery and development by making it easier to analyze certain kinds of proteins, their role in disease, and their interactions with drugs and each other.

Protein drugs, called biopharmaceuticals, represent the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry, Engen noted. His current research at Northeastern University’s Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis has recently been featured in Chemical and Engineering News and the journal Nature.

is highly dependent on the study of proteins, particularly cell-membrane proteins, which account for 20 to 30 percent of all proteins in humans and represent nearly two-thirds of the proteins that can be targeted by drugs. However, these proteins are difficult to study because they are associated with lipids (molecules that make up the cell membrane). Most bioanalytical techniques are not compatible with the combination of lipids and proteins, especially those that are used to reveal the three-dimensional structure of proteins.

Engen’s recent work uses tiny slices of lipid, called nanodiscs, to develop a method to probe the structure of membrane proteins.

"Membrane proteins can be inserted into the nanodiscs, which look like little Frisbees, in a way that mimics how they are found in cells," said Engen. "Since the nanodiscs are much more compatible with many existing bioanalytical methods, it is then possible to study the shape of the proteins that are in the discs."

Engen’s research, in collaboration with Waters Corporation of Milford, Mass., has led to the development of a new instrumental system for the analysis of proteins using Ultraperformance Liquid Chromatography (UPLC).

UPLC, including a specialized version that reveals the three-dimensional shape of proteins, represents the future of separation science, said Engen. "We can study important things like how proteins participate in disease, how drugs interact with proteins, complexes, and how behave during manufacturing."

Recently Engen, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, used the specialized UPLC system to help understand the inhibition mechanism of a new type of anti-leukemia drug.

Explore further: Scientists sweep cells apart for use in medical research

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Major step for drug discovery and diagnostics

Feb 12, 2009

Researchers from Nano-Science Center, University of Copenhagen and National Centre for Scientific Research, France have developed a general method to study membrane proteins. This method can be used to screen ...

Scientists devise method to study membrane proteins

Apr 14, 2004

Scientists at the University of Virginia Health System have come up with a protocol to extract proteins from membranes by using chemicals that allow them to be reversibly folded and refolded. The proteins can then be studied ...

Discovery first step to new therapies

Jul 14, 2008

In an Australian first, scientists at Sydney's Centenary Institute have mapped the anatomy of a membrane protein. This exciting discovery has the potential to turn the way we discover new drugs on its head and reduce the ...

Yale scientists map cell signaling network

Nov 30, 2005

Yale University scientists have mapped, for the first time, the proteins and kinase signaling network that control how cells of higher organisms operate.

Recommended for you

'Global positioning' for molecules

Dec 19, 2014

In everyday life, the global positioning system (GPS) can be employed to reliably determine the momentary location of one en route to the desired destination. Scientists from the Institute of Physical and ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.