Diamond News Update

05 December 2011

Interview with

Sarah Boundy, Diamond Lightsource Communications Team


Meera - Let’s join Sarah Boundy from Diamond’s Communication Team for a round of up of the latest news and events from the synchrotron, starting with a good reason to drink that cup of coffee in the morning...

Sarah – Yes, so it seems that coffee could offer a key ingredient for new treatments for Parkinson’s disease and one of our Industrial Users has used our micro-focus macromolecular crystallography beamline – I24 – to solve the structure of a protein that’s involved in Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. The team was from Heptares Therapeutics and they were looking at the adenosine A2A receptor which is responsible for regulating the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain, in cardiovascular and immune systems, and they were also looking at how xanthine based drugs, such as caffeine, bind to their target.

Meera - And so what effects did they see, how does it bind?

Sarah – Well although it was known that caffeine inhibits the action of the adenosine, the exact molecular mechanism involved was not fully understood until now. So the structural information that Heptares got from I24 has helped to understand what is happening at the molecular level when the drug binds to its target and blocks the receptors response. So this information is enabling them to develop a highly optimised, next generation drug candidates for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

Meera – Staying on the field of structural biology, other research taking place here at Diamond was looking into another disease and that’s heart disease.

Sarah – Yep, so scientists from Imperial College London and Diamond worked at the membrane protein laboratory at Diamond and their research was recently reported in Nature. They revealed the structure of a cholesterol-lowering drug target. Their findings could hopefully lead to much more effective drugs to tackle high cholesterol levels, which is a big cause of heart disease.

Meera – and what is this target and how could it make a difference?

Sarah – Well for the first time they determined the structure of bacterial homolog of the apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter protein, or ASBT for short, and ASBT is a target for high cholesterolemia drugs because it can affect the level of cholesterol in the blood. So there are currently a number of existing ASBT inhibitors effective in animal models, and they were developed without structural knowledge of the protein. Now that they know the shape and the size of the drug binding site within the bacterial model of the protein, it should be possible to work on the design of improved drugs which are much more targeted and which will fit much better.

Meera – So two very important diseases of today, currently being targeted here?

Sarah – Yeah, the life sciences makes up about 40% of Diamond’s research work so we’re working on a lot of important diseases.

Meera – And staying with Structural Biology still, you’ve quite a notable scientist in this field visit Diamond recently?

Sarah – That’s right, at our annual User Meeting, the keynote address was given by Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, who is the joint winner of the 2009 Nobel prize in Chemistry. He spoke about his work on the structure of the ribosome and they way discoveries in macromolecular crystallography have accelerated over the past decade thanks to more powerful beamlines and better detectors and increased automation. So the User Meeting saw about 200 scientists from across the UK gather at Diamond to discuss the latest developments in synchrotron science. It was a really successful meeting and we hope it will lead to much more exciting developments and collaborations between our users.

Meera – So that’s a benefit for the users, but you’ve also done a lot lately to benefit the public in terms of the multimedia content that you’ve got online?

Sarah – Yes, so Diamond News is hot of the press. The latest issue includes articles on research work into protect herbarium staff from mercury contaminated specimens, we’ll hear about that from John Fellows from the University of Manchester later on. Also, looking at the role of gold nanoparticles in cancer treatment and there’s also a feature on polarised light which will help to explain more about our nanoscience beamline I06 and much more. Copies are available from our website.

Meera – In addition to this, there’s also visual content, so videos.

Sarah – That’s right, I mentioned them last time. We’ve now got a whole host of video case studies available and you can find them on our YouTube channel and they cover all kinds of things that Diamond is involved in such a structural biology, Industry innovation and impact and also environmental and health research, so this gives the viewer a great insight into Diamond, but if they actually want to come here and see it in the flesh, our next Inside Diamond public open day is going to be the 14th January.

Meera – Thanks Sarah. Sarah Boundy from Diamond’s Communications Team


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