Penn Scientists Share $2 Million to Develop Tool to Study Proteins at Work in Living Cells

PHILADELPHIA  - Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania will share in a three-year grant worth approximately $2 million to develop technology to identify, in real time, proteins at work inside living cells.  Partnering with Anima Cell Metrology Inc., the resulting technology will be used in basic science research and in the development of drugs and novel medical treatments.

The technology, termed Protein Synthesis Monitoring, or PSM, uses approaches pioneered by Yale E. Goldman and Barry S. Cooperman of the Pennsylvania Muscle Institute, Nano/Bio Interface Center and Department of Chemistry at Penn and was invented by Animas Zeev Smilansky.  The multi-center effort is funded by Anima Cell Metrology Inc. in cooperation with the Commerce Departments National Institute of Standards Advanced Technology Program.

The methodology to be developed will provide researchers with better identification of molecular targets within the body and allow improved prediction of drug utility and side effects.  Part of the study will focus on in-vitro techniques and live-cell applications aimed at being used routinely in academic and pharmaceutical laboratories.

This work will allow us to clarify fundamental aspects of the protein synthesis process and provide a valuable new tool for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, Cooperman said.

Proteins are cornerstones of life, carrying out most biological functions. Elucidating their dynamic behavior is key to understanding certain diseases and to the development of new therapies.  Current methods of protein analysis, however, are expensive and time-consuming.  Moreover, they can only be performed after protein removal from cells, precluding the analysis of their dynamics within living cells.  

By integrating novel chemical synthesis, single-molecule biophysics and quantitative image processing, we plan to develop an entirely new way to detect protein expression with unparalleled sensitivity in normal and diseased cells, Goldman said.