From Basic Research to Industrial Applications

Membrane proteins are essential components of living cells. They are functionally diverse, playing roles in countless biological processes including energy generation, regulation of nutrient and information flow within and between cells, and maintenance of the structural and functional integrity of cellular components.

Consistent with this diversity, membrane proteins make up circa one quarter of all cellular proteins. As a result of their manifold functions, membrane proteins assume major importance in medicine and pharmacy: more than half of the drugs available today are targeted towards this class of biological macromolecule. The development of modern drugs is a time consuming and cost intensive process, taking up to a decade and more. If the target of a potential drug molecule is known, time and costs can be reduced considerably if the atomic structure of the target molecule is available. By way of example, the use of structure based methods allowed the development of HIV protease inhibitors (the basis for the successful triple therapy against AIDS) in record time. A paucity of structural information for the pharmaceutically important class of membrane proteins, however, precludes direct application of these methods.

Under the auspices of the Zentrum für Innovationskompetenz (ZIK) HALOmem, foundations will be laid for the structural analysis of membrane proteins, providing a basis for structure-based drug design in the future. At present, the greatest obstacle to this goal is the production of suitable quantities of functional membrane proteins. Structure and function are intimately linked: all proteins must adopt a correct three dimensional architecture within the natural context – in this case the membrane. The two junior research groups , one focusing on proteins, the other on membranes work in close cooperation towards a common goal, to provide a value chain tailored to the requirements of future markets. Group I (“Membrane Protein Biochemistry”) concentrates on the large scale bacterial production of membrane proteins. Group II (“Biophysical Chemistry of Membranes”) focuses on optimizing the membrane and the functionality of the protein upon membrane insertion. We believe that the dovetailed interplay of optimisation strategies of both (i) protein properties and (ii) membrane properties will be a key to success.

HALOmem will be associated with the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg as an Interdisciplinary Scientific Entity (IWE). The academic environment, traditionally strong in protein research, provides excellent facilities and expertise in structural biology that facilitate success in all steps up to structure elucidation. HALOmem intends to collaborate with industrial partners for paving the way from basic to applied research. We hope to provide the methodological and technological ground-work that will bring a target-based approach to membrane protein structure determination a decisive step closer, opening the field to the powerful tools of structure based drug design.

Dr. Ulla Niesbach-Kloesgen, Scientific Coordinator
Interdisziplinäre Wissenschaftliche Einrichtung HALOmem
Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Kurt-Mothes-Str. 3
06120 Halle (Saale)
Tel: +49-345-55-24866
Fax: +49-345-55-27408
E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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