Pulse 87: Designer Proteins Snap Together Like Legos

12 November 2018
Giulio Prisco

Protein Folding

The creation of self-assembling protein filaments, built at University of Washington (see below), blurs the line between the organic and inorganic worlds and represents an important bioengineering advance. “We were eventually able to design proteins that would snap together like Legos,” said a researcher.

“Being able to create protein filaments from scratch - or de novo - will help us better understand the structure and mechanics of naturally occurring protein filaments and will also allow us to create entirely novel materials unlike any found in nature,” added another researcher. “And the stability of these proteins suggest they could serve as easily modifiable scaffolds for a range of applications ranging from new diagnostic tests to nano-electronics.”

Self-assembling protein filaments for biomedical applications and nano-electronics. Scientists at University of Washington have created, from scratch, self-assembling protein filaments built from identical protein subunits that snap together spontaneously to form long, helical, thread-like configurations. Protein filaments are essential components of several structural and moving parts in living cells, as well as many body tissues. To design the filaments, described in a study published in Science, the researchers used a computer program able to predict the shape of a protein from its amino acid sequence. Being able to design and build protein filaments could allow for engineering novel materials for nano-electronics or scaffolds for new diagnostic tests.

Machine-learning predicts how cells repair broken genes. By creating a machine-learning algorithm that predicts how human and mouse cells respond to CRISPR-induced breaks in DNA, a team of researchers at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have discovered that cells often repair broken genes in ways that are precise and predictable, sometimes even returning mutated genes back to their healthy version. A study published in Nature describes how the researchers tested and corrected mutations in cells taken from patients with one of two rare genetic disorders. The results suggest that the cell's genetic auto-correction could one day be combined with CRISPR-based therapies that correct gene mutations by simply cutting DNA precisely and allowing the cell to naturally heal the damage.

Nanotechnology-based immunotherapy for organ transplant acceptance. Mount Sinai researchers have developed a novel type of immunotherapy based on innovative nanotechnology that induces long-term organ transplant acceptance in laboratory mice. The scientists are persuaded that the research results, published in Immunity, could transform patient care and help to overcome barriers that prevent successful long-term transplant outcomes.

New immunotherapy screening method for personalized cancer therapy. Scientists at UC Irvine and Caltech have developed a new immunotherapy screening prototype able to quickly create individualized cancer treatments that could allow physicians to effectively target tumors without the side effects of standard cancer drugs. A research paper published in Lab on a Chip describes a device that allows for individual T cells to join with cancer cells in microscopic fluid containers. The T cell receptors (TCRs) that bind with the cancer cells' antigens can be sorted and identified within days, considerably faster than the months or year that previous technologies required. The researchers are persuaded that this technology could help revolutionize TCR-T cell therapies for cancer, and discover other immunological agents.

Wearable detects severe night-time epilepsy seizures. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology have developed a new high-tech bracelet able to detect 85 percent of all severe night-time epilepsy seizures. The results of a study with epilepsy patients, published in Neurology, show that the bracelet detected 85 percent of all serious attacks and 96% of the most severe ones (tonic-clonic seizures), which is a particularly high score, better than any other technology currently available. The scientists are persuaded that this bracelet, called Nightwatch, can reduce the worldwide number of unexpected night-time fatalities in epilepsy patients.

Biodegradable scaffolds for stem cell therapies. Scientists at Rutgers University have created a tiny, biodegradable scaffold to transplant stem cells and deliver drugs, which may help treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, aging brain degeneration, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. Stem cell transplantation, which shows promise as a treatment for central nervous system diseases, has been hampered by low cell survival rates, incomplete differentiation of cells, and limited growth of neural connections. A study published in Nature Communications describes how the researchers designed bio-scaffolds that mimic natural tissue and got good results in test tubes and mice.

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