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European Law Monitor newsEU-funded scientists decode proteins with potential for new medicines

An EU-funded research team, working with scientists at Stanford University in the US and the European synchrotron radiation facility in Grenoble, is the first to determine the structure of a specific membrane protein, known as "recombinant G protein-coupled receptor". Membrane proteins are potentially very important targets for future medicines, because of their involvement in the development of many diseases within the body. In addition to this exciting discovery, the European Commission is announcing around €22m of funding for two new projects looking into membrane proteins, one of which involves two previous Nobel prize-winners.

All over the world, scientists are trying hard to determine the three dimensional structure of membrane proteins as a key process for pharmacological research. The first structure of a recombinant G protein-coupled receptor has just been solved by an American team (Dr. Brian Kobilka from Stanford University) in collaboration with a partner from the European project IMPS (Dr. Gebhard F. X. Schertler from MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge) and the European synchrotron radiation facility in Grenoble.

The two new projects selected within the first call from the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme are:

       * EDICT (European Drug Initiative on Channels and Transporters), with about €11m. It aims to characterise the structure of several membrane superfamilies in human and pathogenic micro-organisms, covering a wide variety of human disorders or diseases and addressing global health issues. EDICT includes two Nobel prize winners, Prof. Hartmut Michel, 1988 Laureate for the determination of the 3D structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre, and Sir John Walker, 1997 Laureate for the elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate.
       * NeuroCypres (Neurotransmitter Cys-loop receptors (CLRs): structure, function and disease), with about €11m. This 20 partner project focuses on a single class of physiologically very important channels called Cys-loop receptors. CLRs have been identified as targets for numerous drugs used to treat several diseases including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, certain forms of epilepsy, anti-smoking compounds, etc. Drug design will be more effective if CLR subtypes can be targeted.

Final budget figures (EU contribution) and project details are subject to the final signature of contracts. The projects will start their research in early 2008.

Innovative tools for membrane structural proteomics (IMPS)

The EU-funded IMPS consortium was established in 2006 and receives €1.9 m. Seven laboratories with expertise in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular genetics, electron microscopy, crystallography and a SME are members of the network. IMPS is exploring innovative approaches to membrane proteins such as over expression, stabilisation and micro-crystallography in collaboration with the European Synchrotron Facility.