Spotlight: The Power of Protein

The fruits of scientific exploration can’t always be predicted. The Barnett Institute’s new Center for Advanced Regulatory Analysis is an unlooked-for but direct outgrowth of the institute’s wide-ranging investigations into proteins and biomarkers.

For instance, Barnett fellow John Engen, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, has been examining how disease affects the shape and size of proteins in the human body. Using mass spectrometry, Engen and his colleagues can pinpoint the exact shape of portions of microscopic proteins. Understanding how these proteins change could lead to new AIDS and cancer treatments.

Elsewhere, William Hancock, the Bradstreet Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry, is studying carbohydrate structures on molecules that can serve as breast-cancer indicators.

Through a three-year $1.26 million grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure (for which Barnett Institute director Barry Karger is a coprincipal investigator), researchers from the institute and Massachusetts General Hospital are together looking for protein biomarkers that can predict which women are likely to develop breast cancer and which are likely to remain cancer-free.

Under the Barnett/MGH collaboration, archived tissue samples from MGH patients will undergo detailed comparative protein analyses in Barnett Institute labs. Researchers will look specifically for proteins that can serve as a warning signal for breast cancer.

And Barnett associate director Graham Jones is experimenting with using synthetic molecules to tamp down bulges in DNA that are associated with such neurodegenerative disorders as Huntington’s disease.