New laser technique may make drug discovery easier

It's the little things that can be the most frustrating when it comes to drug discovery. Take, for example, the ability to measure interactions between the proteins in a cell's membrane and the molecules you're testing. It's a pretty big deal, according to a release from Vanderbilt University, since about half the drugs currently on the market target membrane proteins. That's because, according to the release, about 30 percent of the 7,000 proteins live in the membrane. The membrane proteins, in turn, initiate 60 to 70 percent of the signals controlling the cell's machinery.

Unfortunately, current methods of measurement are not ideal since they either involve taking the membranes out of their natural environments or modifying them by attaching fluorescent labels. "In addition to being expensive and time-consuming, these modifications can affect the target membrane's function in unpredictable ways," Vanderbilt Professor Darryl Bornhop said in the release.

Bornhop's solution is a new laser technique called backscattering interferometry, which can measure the binding force between membrane proteins and both large and small molecules--all in their natural environments.

"This is a powerful tool and a major advance in measuring membrane protein interactions," Lawrence Marnett, director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, told Nano Magazine.

- read the story on Vanderbilt's website
- and the abstract in Nature Biotechnology