Computer Simulation of Protein Functioning Inside a Cell for Alzheimer’s and Cancer

Alzheimer’s and cancer ailments are linked to the disruption of metabolic rates in the body. Malfunction in the rate of conversion of food to energy inside the body can cause these ailments. Over-activity of this process leads to cancer whereas lesser activity of it in the brain causes Alzheimer’s.

Proteins are natural chemicals found in the body which cause these activities. Understanding the functions of the proteins inside the cells is crucial in addressing various ailments.

Physicists at the University of Houston (UH) have used computer simulation in order to learn more about a protein phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) inside a cell. PGK protein is directly associated with conversion of food-to-energy process. They have learnt that the structure and function of this protein are strongly disturbed by the presence of other bigger sized molecules like DNA and ribosomes inside the cell.

Communication of proteins inside the cell is vital for its functioning. When this system is disturbed, uncontrollable cell growth can occur leading to cancer or cell malfunction which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The results of their study are published in the November 2010 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The conventional method of learning about protein activity is by observing them in water. The demerit of this test tube research is that the actual functioning of a protein inside a crowded cell cannot be gauged properly along with its interactions with surrounding bigger molecules. The computer simulation approach discovered that in the jam-packed environment of a cell’s interior, the protein PGK is 15 times more active than it is when diluted by water inside a usual test tube research.

The researchers used supercomputers at the Texas Learning and Computation Center (TLC2) for simulating the inside of a cell. Their research effort was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Further research is focused on development of a medicine which can precisely target the key protein behind Alzheimer’s and cancer. It can then eventually lead to the conversion of a sick or rogue cell into a healthier one.

The significance of the study is that it will completely transform the outlook of scientists while studying proteins through conventional test tube approach. Moreover, deeper insight into the working of proteins in cramped interiors of cells can open up doors for development of efficient therapeutic means, prevention of ailments and improvement of human health.

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