Research Profile: Crystalizing Proteins

By Olivia Singler

Carolyn Allain, FCRH ’17, is working with Dr. Paul Smith in the Chemistry Department to study protein structures.  Determining the structures of proteins can tell us about their function.  Abnormalities in the structure of proteins can be linked to problems in cellular processes.

In collaboration with the Stevens Institute in New Jersey, Allain and Smith are currently focusing on determining the structure of a specific mutated protein.  This cellular protein is involved in cellular replication, and when it is mutated, it can lead to unregulated cell growth, which can lead to cancer.  Mutations in the family that this protein belongs to have been linked to 30% of all human cancers.  Because there are a lot of mutations Looking long term, by figuring out the structure of this particular protein, they hope to one day be able to determine how to turn the protein off and stop excessive cell growth.

Allain and Smith perform protein crystallography to determine protein structure.  They grow the protein in bacteria, isolate the protein, crystallize it, and perform x-ray diffraction, which gives the structure.  Currently, they have been able to get crystals, but the crystals have been usable just not useful.

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