Nov 7, 2017: Danish researchers have developed a new class of artificial proteins that could lead to better treatment of cancers and diabetes. ‘When you work with artificial proteins, you have better control over the proteins’ properties,’ said one of the researchers, Knud Jensen, Professor at the University of Copenhagen. ‘This is valuable when you are developing new, protein-based drugs and enzymes. In general, proteins have a very short lifetime in a body, a key parameter which can be improved for artificial proteins,’ Jensen explained.
Nature has created a host of proteins, which come in many forms, and which have many functions in our body. They are the body’s principal, and hardest working building blocks. For example, some of them provide our muscles with strength while others make sure that our cells receive messages.
In spite of this natural diversity, in the past 20 years or so there has been great scientific interest in creating artificial proteins, in part stimulated by drug development opportunities. Artificial proteins are made from the smallest of nature’s building blocks. In this case, the team of researchers succeeded in combining so-called oligonucleotides (short DNA molecules) with peptides (small proteins).
The peptides coiled around one another effectively, creating an artificial protein. ‘We forced three building blocks together and managed to make them form a protein mimic,’ Professor Jesper Wengel from University of Southern Denmark said.
‘We have shown that it is possible to enforce peptides together by this approach. It paves the way for testing countless new combinations, which could create new artificial proteins with functions, which nature itself has not created, but which we need,’ Wengel noted in the study published in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers hope that, in the future, artificial proteins can be used to treat some of the major diseases like cancer or diabetes.