NASA Research Helps Map Protein Structures -- Key In The Development Of New Disease-Fighting Drugs

July 21, 1998

Research sponsored by NASA's Microgravity Research Program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is making significant contributions to scientists' understanding of the molecular structure of living things - a key to the development of new disease-fighting drugs.

Space- and ground-based studies conducted by NASA-sponsored scientists are providing a better understanding of protein structures and functions. Determining the structures of proteins -- which allow living organisms to function -- is essential to the future design of new, more effective drugs against diseases such as AIDS, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

While ground-based research has been (historically) vital to the discovery of protein structures, in the near-zero gravity environment of space researchers have produced some of the largest, highest-quality protein crystals ever, which is critical for pharmaceutical research. On Earth, the influence of gravity can interfere with the crystal growth process, and this can lead to structural imperfections and poor information.

"At least 60 percent of all protein crystals flown in space produce sufficient overall quality and size to be X-rayed for three-dimensional structure analysis," said Dr. Larry DeLucas, director of the Center for Macromolecular Crystallography at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Twenty-five percent of the proteins we fly in space produce the best crystallographic data when compared to their earth-grown counterparts."

Already, more than 15 protein structures have been determined from protein crystal growth research, and these findings are being used to improve our knowledge of protein structures.

Some of the space research done with protein crystals that would not have been possible on Earth includes:

"These experiments have provided persuasive evidence that growth in microgravity can produce crystals of larger size, better shape and higher quality than have been obtained on Earth," according to a 1995 report issued by the National Research Council in Washington, D.C. "They also show that benefits from microgravity crystal growth can be crucial to success in protein structure determination."

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Birmingham, Ala.; New Century Pharmaceuticals in Huntsville, Ala.; Parke-Davis in Ann Arbor, Mich.; DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Company in Wilmington, Del.; the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Eli Lilly & Company in Indianapolis, Ind., are among the 20 companies working with NASA as industry partners in the research of protein crystal structures. More than 85 investigators representing industry and academic affiliates have conducted protein studies in space, resulting in important information needed to help resolve health challenges both in America and other countries around the world.

Note to Editors/News Directors: Photos and video are available to support this release. To arrange interviews with NASA managers of Marshall's Microgravity Research Office, contact Steve Roy of Marshall's Media Relations Office at 256-544-6535.

For more information on protein crystal growth research, visit the NASA Website at: http://microgravity.msfc.nasa.gov/pcg.html.
-end-


NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

Related Proteins Articles from Brightsurf:

New understanding of how proteins operate
A ground-breaking discovery by Centenary Institute scientists has provided new understanding as to the nature of proteins and how they exist and operate in the human body.

Finding a handle to bag the right proteins
A method that lights up tags attached to selected proteins can help to purify the proteins from a mixed protein pool.

Designing vaccines from artificial proteins
EPFL scientists have developed a new computational approach to create artificial proteins, which showed promising results in vivo as functional vaccines.

New method to monitor Alzheimer's proteins
IBS-CINAP research team has reported a new method to identify the aggregation state of amyloid beta (Aβ) proteins in solution.

Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence
Scientists have long studied how to improve proteins or design new ones.

Hero proteins are here to save other proteins
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have discovered a new group of proteins, remarkable for their unusual shape and abilities to protect against protein clumps associated with neurodegenerative diseases in lab experiments.

Designer proteins
David Baker, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington to speak at the AAAS 2020 session, 'Synthetic Biology: Digital Design of Living Systems.' Prof.

Gone fishin' -- for proteins
Casting lines into human cells to snag proteins, a team of Montreal researchers has solved a 20-year-old mystery of cell biology.

Coupled proteins
Researchers from Heidelberg University and Sendai University in Japan used new biotechnological methods to study how human cells react to and further process external signals.

Understanding the power of honey through its proteins
Honey is a culinary staple that can be found in kitchens around the world.

Read More: Proteins News and Proteins Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.