Over the past decade, systems biologists have mapped large networks of protein interactions related to various diseased states, providing many potential new drug targets for the pharmaceutical industry. These targets are dissimilar to traditional drug targets, generally lacking natural small molecule ligands and being physically flatter than the cavities used by many drugs; presenting a challenge to those trying to take advantage of this new fountain of knowledge. Assessing the “drugability” of a novel target can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take several years. To make this process more efficient, Boston University Biomedical Engineering Professor Sandor Vajda developed FTMap, a computational solvent mapping program that can rapidly assess the drugability of a protein.
An interdisciplinary team of College of Engineering faculty members—Professor Sandor Vajda and Research Assistant Professor Dima Kozakov (both BME), Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE) and Associate Professor Pirooz Vakili (ME)—has developed a family of powerful optimization algorithms for predicting the structures of complexes that form when two cell proteins bond together—structures that, in some cases, generate erroneous cell signaling pathways that can trigger cancer and other inflammatory diseases. Recognizing the promise of these computational methods to advance new approaches to combating these illnesses, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) recently approved a $1.6 million, five-year grant that will enable the researchers to continue refining them.
A joint effort of Boston University’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering and Biomolecular Engineering Research Center, the project combines Paschalidis’ and Vakili’s expertise in optimization and systems theory with Vajda and Kozakov’s knowledge of biophysics and bioinformatics.