At one point or the another in our lives, most of us have suffered some sort of ailment and needed to take medication. Generally, we take little or no notice of how the drug has come about. Nowadays, drugs are designed to target specific chemical processes which make us ill.
Most of the time, the target molecule is a protein and to date, synchrotron light has allowed the study of many types. The results have helped make drugs for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and flu. Synchrotron light does not only look at diseases which affect the West. It has also helped to make drugs for HIV and other diseases that affect huge numbers in the developing world.
Proteins play key roles in living organisms and understanding how a particular protein works is key to targeting it and making it function properly. Scientists at Diamond Light Source use synchrotron light to help researchers understand what a particular protein does. The information derived can be used to design drugs that block the proteins directly and lead to treatments or vaccines for diseases.
Recent work at Diamond light source was carried out by researchers from Imperial College and Harvard University, into understanding how HIV and other retroviruses infect the human body.
The researchers used the synchrotron light source to study and determine the structure of the integrase enzyme which is used by HIV and other retroviruses to copy their genetic information into that of their host when invading.
Peter Cherepanov, who works in the chromatin structure and Mobile DNA laboratory at the London Research Institute said: “Using the synchrotron light source, the researchers were able to fully understand the mechanism behind the enzyme, and what the antiretroviral drugs, which help keep HIV under control, should be targeting. We now know in great detail the mechanism by which HIV integrates its DNA into human genome.”
“Solving the structure of integrase would be impossible without access to Diamond or some other major synchrotron facility,” said Cherepanov.
Cherepanov noted: “Our data are helping to improve anti-HIV/AIDS drugs that bind to and inactivate integrase. Initially such drugs were developed without knowing the structure (by random trial and error). Now medicinal chemists can use the structure of integrase as a guide to make more potent therapeutics”.
While the synchrotron was built by physicists and engineers, it has been put to use across the whole range of science. Claire Pizzey, Industrial liaison Scientist at Diamond,said: “About 40 percent of the work done at Diamond is about the life science sector”.
Image by Erich Ferdinand on Flickr
For more, see Elements’ special report on Diamond Light Source.