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Physics research with atomic force microscope could lead to better health care
Date:7/6/2009

Where biology, chemistry and physics intersect, a Kansas State University professor expects to find applications to improve human health.

Robert Szoszkiewicz, an assistant professor of physics at K-State, is continuing research on molecules both singularly and as a group. His study of proteins as a single molecule shows promise to help scientists understand the causes of diseases like some cancers. Meanwhile, his research on bunched molecules could lead to a more efficient way to identify antibodies in blood.

Szoszkiewicz's research on proteins began at Columbia University and some of it was published in June in Nature Chemistry magazine. He and his former colleagues looked at the unexpected complexity in the dynamics of stretching and breaking of a single chemical bond between two atoms embedded in a protein. A cleavage of that particular bond has been precisely signaled by unfolding and elongation of a part of a protein.

"There is lots of potential for this research to really address issues of major importance in biology because this will be related to particular pathways through which some kinds of diseases, cancers and biological processes develop," he said. "And, we can study that on the very molecular level by studying the single proteins involved and stretching them and seeing how this contributes to the overall picture."

The research uses an atomic force microscope, a tool involving a cantilever with a sharp tip that under certain circumstances becomes attached to the protein molecule. The researchers stretch the molecules and measure precisely their tiny displacements.

"Any work that we do on the ground level of stretching any kind of chemical bonds is fundamentally important because it's the kind of knowledge no one has ever measured on this scale," he said. "Proteins constantly fold and unfold. A folded protein is the one that's biologically active and performing a function. So any problems during
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Contact: Robert Szoszkiewicz
rs@phys.ksu.edu
785-532-0855
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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