Engineered Protein Blocks Cancer Growth and Regenerates Neurons

June 17, 2020 | Biotechnology

Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Fresh from Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN), here is a noteworthy Biotech article for you:

Ligands are protein molecules that transmit signals in between or within the cells. They exert their effects by binding to cellular proteins called receptors. After binding to the ligand, the receptor can then send additional signals to other parts of the cell to regulate our biological processes. However, if those messages get garbled, it can make us ill with a set of different diseases.

Now a team led by Jennifer Cochran, PhD, professor of bioengineering and Shriram chair of the department of bioengineering at Stanford University, has altered one ligand that produced two dramatically different results. One set of alterations regenerated neuron cells, while the other alteration to the same protein inhibited lung tumor growth.

Their results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and performed in mice that model actual diseases. These results give hope to eventually treating neurodegenerative diseases as well as cancers.

A specific ligand will have a specific receptor that typically binds only that ligand like a lock and key. Researchers can change the lineup of amino acids in a ligand, essentially making millions of keys that they screen to see which might unlock its matching receptor. A key that fits better and trips the lock more efficiently is called a superagonist. Bioengineering may also be used to turn ligands into antagonists—keys that also fit the receptor lock, but in a way that blocks the signal.

“I have long been fascinated with how proteins function as nature’s molecular machines, and how the tools of engineering allow us to shape protein structure and function with the creativity of an artist, in this case using amino acids as our palette,” Cochran explained.

In 2019, Cochran teamed up with Alejandro Sweet-Cordero, MD, associate professor of pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, where they slowed the spread... You can find the entire article in the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN) Blog.

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