Research Matters

Research Matters

Research at the University of Kansas deepens our understanding of our world and ourselves. "Research Matters" looks at the most important and fascinating inquiries underway at KU across a range of disciplines, including science, engineering, humanities, social sciences and life sciences.

The KU News Service regularly produces the two-minute "Research Matters" spot. Hear the program on Kansas Public Radio (91.5 FM in Lawrence; 91.3 FM in Manhattan; 89.7 FM in Emporia) on:

  • Mondays at 2:57 p.m.
  • Fridays at 9:04 a.m.
  • Sundays at 1:04 p.m.

Featured Episode

Protein Complexes

Episode #117

A breakthrough with far-reaching implications for structural biology could pave the way for new drugs and therapies to treat a host of diseases.

2 minutes (2.5 MB) | Download mp3 | Read transcript | Tell me more


Investigators discover that a near-complete set of templates for protein complexes already exists. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I’m Brendan Lynch.

Visualize trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle where each piece keeps changing shape. Now, think of the vexing job scientists have faced in modeling interactions between tens of thousands of proteins that are fundamental to biology.

Vakser: You can think of the world of proteins as a crowded environment where a lot of individual molecules float around and bump into each other. If it’s a random interaction, nothing happens — they walk away. But if it has physiological importance, then they might stick to each other and change shape or transfer an electron.”

Ilya Vakser, professor and director of the center for bioinformatics at KU, says modeling these interactions is vitally important. But until now, scientists thought years of work lay ahead before a useful set of templates could be completed. Now, Vakser and colleagues have discovered that an almost-whole set exists already, a breakthrough with far-reaching implications for structural biology.

Vakser: Proteins are the building blocks of life, they are at the heart of molecular mechanisms, of life systems, so there are the most important components of life. So if we know things about proteins, we can tell a lot about how living systems operate. We can gain a lot of fundamental knowledge about biology, but also can learn to how to cure diseases.

The ability to influence these protein-protein interactions could mean new treatments for common killers like cancer and coronary heart disease, as well as a host of other ailments.

Vakser: Because it gives us a greater ability to model these interactions and to find ways to cure diseases. Lots of diseases are caused by abnormalities of protein-protein interactions, or interactions that are undesirable. But to modulate them through drugs, we need to know how it all happens.

For more on protein complexes, log on to research matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I’m Brendan Lynch.




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