How Proteins Build Better Drugs
Justin MacCallum, assistant professor in chemistry, studies the structures of proteins.
“Proteins are the targets of almost all drugs,” he says. “A drug recognizes and binds to a specific protein, causing it to not work anymore. In order to design those drugs, you need to know the structure of a protein and its three-dimensional shape.
“Imagine a long string that has a bunch of different-coloured beads on it. Those are different amino acids, and that long string of amino acids folds up into a complicated, three-dimensional shape.
“We’re trying to understand the rules. How does a sequence of which amino acids, in what order, make up the proteins? How does that lead to a particular 3-D shape, and how can we manipulate that to get the protein to do what we want?
“You can design proteins from scratch that do some particular task at the molecular level. In my lab, we’re focused on the basics of how these molecules behave and how we can learn to control them. We design proteins that bind to and recognize particular markers that are diagnostic for different types of disease or help with different treatments.” U