Skip to Content

From the Labs: Biomedicine

New publications, experiments and breakthroughs in biomedicine–and what they mean.
June 23, 2009

Artificial Proteins
A synthetic protein built from scratch can carry oxygen, mimicking blood

Better by design: Four helices form the backbone of a man-made protein.

Source: “Design and engineering of an O(2) transport protein”
P. Leslie Dutton et al.
Nature
458: 305-309

Results: Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have designed and built a protein that can transport oxygen. The protein is much simpler than the oxygen-carrying proteins found in nature, and the process that they used demonstrates a new method for making novel proteins.

Why it matters: A more complex version of the protein could eventually be used to create artificial blood. The research also illustrates the effectiveness of the new design process, which could be used to engineer other proteins that improve on the efficiency of important biological functions–or proteins with entirely new functions.

Methods: The design process begins with a simple artificial protein that the researchers gradually change until it performs a desired function. To make the oxygen-binding protein, the researchers used three amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, to create four novel helix-shaped structures that they assembled into a bundle. Then they replaced some of these amino acids with ones that would help the bundle incorporate a chemical group called a heme, which can bind oxygen molecules. They added other amino acids to help make the protein structure flexible enough to open, letting the heme bind oxygen, and then close, protecting the oxygen from water.

Next steps: Researchers plan to engineer artificial functional proteins that incorporate light-harvesting pigments to capture solar energy.

Better MRI
A new method of modifying molecules could improve ­medical imaging

Source: “Reversible interactions with para-hydrogen enhance NMR sensitivity by polarization transfer”
Simon B. Duckett et al.
Science
323: 1708-1711

Results: A novel method of modifying the magnetic properties of molecules, developed by researchers at the University of York, in the United Kingdom, makes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) a thousand times more sensitive. The technique provides a way to use a broad range of drugs and antibodies to label specific tissues for medical imaging.

Why it matters: If proved safe and effective in humans, the new technique would lead to new diagnostic and treatment applications for MRI. An antibody designed to stick to a tumor could be used for cancer screening, for example.

Methods: Researchers have known that hydrogenation reactions can be used to modify molecules with a form of hydrogen called para­hydrogen, which changes their magnetic properties in a way that greatly improves MRI results. But this process works with only a few types of molecules. The researchers developed a way to temporarily link the parahydrogen to various organic molecules using an intermediary chemical complex, without causing them to undergo any chemical change. They showed that the process enhances the magnetic signal of a variety of organic molecules, including chemicals widely used in making pharmaceuticals.

Next steps: The researchers aim to use the technique to perform MRI scans on animals later this year.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.