The University of Leeds team is using a lab-made protein called an Affimer that binds to the F-actin protein.
F-actin is part of the network within cells which gives them their shape and helps them move and divide.
By seeing the cells move and change, scientists can begin to develop chemical compounds to target them, over time becoming new drug candidates.
Affimers were first developed at the University of Leeds and are a man-made alternative to animal-derived antibodies. This has the important extra benefit of reducing the numbers of animals used in research work.
“The Affimers carry a biological label which lights up under a microscope to help us see the F-actin with greater accuracy than previously possible with antibodies.”
In addition to the better view, the small size of the Affimers has made it possible to bind right into the dense actin network in living cells, enabling scientists to watch movement within the cell.
“Being able to see the F-actin in motion could enable proteins which bind to the actin and regulate its movement to be studied in greater depth; these interactions have been linked to a wide range of diseases including cancer, neurological disorders and cardiomyopathies.”
Further development of the Affimers could prove useful in diagnostic assays, as well as a wide range of research areas including cancer and heart disease, the researchers say.
For years scientists around the world have exploited the ability of antibodies to recognise specific proteins in a wide range of techniques including diagnostic screening and in studying different tissues and cells under microscopes.
Whilst antibodies are a good tool to recognise specific proteins, they are comparatively large, which makes them less flexible to use within the body.
Their use fulfils a key commitment which the University and many other institutions have made – to reduce the numbers of animals used in research. The University is a founding signatory to the Understanding Animal Research Concordat on Openness in Animal Research.
The top picture shows a computer simulation of the Affimer which can identify the F-actin protein within cells.
Journalists with questions or interview requests should contact Peter Le Riche in the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 2049 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
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Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
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Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
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Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
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Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
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Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
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Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
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