CHICAGO --- A scientist slides on a pair of plastic 3-D glasses and an unearthly blue multi-armed creature -- an image right out of a sci-fi horror flick -- seems to leap out of the computer screen into the laboratory.
But this is no movie director's fantasy. The horror image is real.
The eerie "creature" is from the deadly anthrax bacteria -- specifically one of its proteins. Scientists at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine are mapping parts of the lethal bacteria in three dimensions, exposing a new and intimate chemical portrait of the biological killer down to its very atoms. This view of the disease will offer scientists who design drugs a fresh opening into the bacterias vulnerabilities, and thus enable them to create drugs to disable it or vaccines to prevent it.
Anthrax is just the beginning. The Feinberg School is directing an ambitious national project that will map a rogues' gallery of 375 proteins from deadly infectious diseases over the next five years. It is being funded by a $31 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The payoff could be a wave of new medicines to wipe out some of the worst scourges to ever infect the human race.
"The concept is fairly simple," said Wayne Anderson, who is leading the national project at the Feinberg School's new Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases. "If you have a lock and a key and you don't know what either one looks like, how will you design them to fit together"" The lock is Anderson's metaphor for the disease; the key is the drug or vaccine that will slip inside its atomic structure and destroy it.
To figure out where to throw the chemical equivalent of a monkey wrench into the anthrax cell -- and others --Anderson will be mapping key proteins the bacteria uses to do its work.
"We'll see what the proteins lo
|Contact: Marla Paul|