Most pharmaceutical drugs consist of small molecules that target a class of proteins found on the surfaces of cell membranes. Studying these subtle interactions is essential for the design of effective drugs, but the task is extremely challenging. Now, Nongjian Tao, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Arizona State University's (ASU’s) Biodesign Institute describe a new method for examining small molecules and their communication with membrane proteins. The research will allow scientists and clinicians to study these interactions at an astonishingly minute scale with unprecedented precision. The new work has broad implications for basic research into biological function at the cellular level, as well as providing an efficient platform for new drug design, which can be carried out more rapidly and precisely, at lower cost. The method permits the first direct, real-time measurement of the binding kinetics of small molecules with membrane proteins on intact cells, without the use of molecular labeling. The study was published in an open-access article in the October 23, 2015 issue of Science Advances. The article is titled “Kinetics of Small Molecule Interactions with Membrane Proteins in Single Cells Measured with Mechanical Amplification.” "Most drugs are small molecules and most drug targets are membrane proteins," says Dr. Tao, who directs ASU’s Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, which focuses on developing new detection technologies.
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