Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine have devised a new biochemical technique that will allow them and other scientists to delve much more deeply than ever before into the specific cellular circuitry that keeps us healthy or causes disease. The method – developed in the lab of Klaus Hahn, Ph.D., and described online on March 9, 2014 in the journal Nature Chemical Biology – helps researchers study how specific proteins called kinases interact to trigger a specific cellular behavior, such as how a cell moves. These kinase interactions are extraordinarily complex, and their interactions remain largely unknown. But researchers do know that kinases are crucial operators in disease. "I dare you to find a disease in which kinases are not involved," said Dr. Hahn, senior author of the study and the Thurman Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology. "These kinase processes have been very difficult to fully understand, but we all know they're very important." For years, scientists have been able to tweak a kinase to see what would happen – such as causing cell death or cell movement or cellular signaling. But these experiments can only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding the cascade of kinase interactions that lead to a cellular behavior. Nor have these experiments been able to show the timing of rapid events. That's important, Dr. Hahn said, because when a protein is activated has a lot to do with how the cell will respond. Drug developers haven't been able to take this into account, which is likely one reason why some drugs that target proteins don't work as well as scientists had hoped.
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