Researchers at Birkbeck have secured nearly 2m to further their studies into how proteins and membranes interact.
£2m research grant for molecular and cellular imaging
A team of researchers lead by Professor Helen Saibil of the Department of Biological Sciences at Birkbeck has secured nearly £2m to use the latest imaging technology to further their studies into how proteins and membranes interact.
The grant from the European Research Council will be used to create 3D images and help understand the processes of pathogen attack and immune defence. The five-year project, called Membrane Attack, is part of a collaboration with researchers from Monash University, Australia, and Leicester University, UK.
The research is likely to improve the understanding of how pathogens and the immune system carry out their functions. Both the immune system and pathogens use proteins to penetrate cellular membranes in order to kill target cells, or allow passage of pathogenic organisms such as malaria parasites. As part of the research project, specialist techniques, including electron cryo-microscopy, will be used to visualise membrane interactions when pathogens burst out of their host cell.
The research builds on previous work conducted by researchers at Birkbeck and other collaborators. In 2010 this team showed how a protein called perforin punches holes through membranes, and then kills rogue cells in our bodies.
Professor Helen Saibil said: “Innovations in sample preparation combined with state-of-the-art imaging methods will lead to the molecular definition of a fundamental process in 'hostile' communication between cells and will broaden the landscape for drug design for immune disorders and major infectious diseases.”
Photo caption: 3D structure of a perforin pore inserted in a patch of membrane determined by electron microscopy (grey surface), with the model of the protein ring (coloured ribbons) fitted inside the electron microscopy structure © Helen Saibil