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Dr Chester Drum (second from right) and his team presenting a 3D model of the man-made protein folds made using a bacterium's exoshell.

A new way of building protective suits for proteins has been developed by a team led by Dr Chester Drum from Department of Medicine at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and this finding may help with future treatment of diseases such as cancer. By using a highly stable shell to wrap an unfolded substrate, the proteins get folded and are transported around the body with a protective layer.

The shapes of proteins influence what they can do, and Dr Drum leveraged on this knowledge, modifying a protein called ferritin from an uncommon bacterium, Archaeoglobus fulgidus, which can be found in hot springs or hydrothermal vents at near-boiling temperatures. The protein’s original function was to store iron, but it was modified into an exoshell that can store a different protein.

Research by Dr Drum and his team revealed that the exoshells can protect the stored proteins against a considerable range of stressors, such as extreme heat and harsh chemicals, and have the potential to transport substances such as antibiotics to diseased sites within the body.

Dr Drum and his team are currently using the exoshells in experiments for cancer treatment, and hopes to work with biopharmaceutical companies to produce them more efficiently.

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