Magazine article Science News

Built-In Drugs Could Target Tissues

Magazine article Science News

Built-In Drugs Could Target Tissues

Article excerpt

Instead of being packaged inside a pill, a special class of drugs can be stitched right into the fabric of a protein, a new study suggests. By choosing an appropriate protein as a delivery vehicle, scientists may be able to send these drugs to specific tissues or time their release in a new way.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, demonstrated the feasibility of this idea by synthesizing a protein in which one amino acid was replaced with a non-natural, biologically active one. According to their scenario, the modified protein would travel inside the body like its normal counterpart and then deliver its drug--the nonstandard amino acid--to target cells. The team's report appears in the Jan. 20 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is very nice work," says Peter G. Schultz of the University of California, Berkeley. "It's a novel application of the incorporation of amino acid analogs into proteins."

The researchers fed Escherichia coli bacteria with thiaproline, a version of the amino acid proline in which a sulfur atom replaces a carbon atom. About 20 years ago, thiaproline was heralded as a potential cancer treatment. "That euphoria calmed down a few years after," says study coauthor Nediljko Budisa, "mainly because of many toxic effects of thiaproline for other parts of the body."

Budisa and his coworkers had engineered the E. coli to make the human protein annexin V, "a good model protein, since its structure is well known and characterized, and purification is convenient and simple," Budisa says. …

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