„Hacking“ is a fraught term when it comes to biology, so often taken up by body modification goofballs and-or those that envision biotechnology in its most science-fictional terms. But when it comes to a set of recent experiments conducted at the University of California, San Diego, it’s hard to resist—researchers there have successfully manipulated the signalling capabilities of diseased human cells, allowing for a resetting of the cell’s communications capabilities. The UCSD work is described in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD
„Most common diseases (e.g., cancer, inflammatory disorders, diabetes) are driven by not one, but multiple cell surface receptors that trigger and sustain a pathologic signaling network,“ the researchers note. “The largest fraction of therapeutic agents that target individual receptors/pathways often eventually fail due to the emergence of compensatory mechanisms.”
Commonly found on the surfaces of cells are what’s known as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which are a crucial way cells use to sense and respond to the environment around them. These receptors work by chemically binding to molecules on the outside of the cell—representing odors, pheromones, light-sensitive compounds, hormones, and neurotransmitters—and passing a signal back into the guts of the cell, via a process that’s still poorly understood. The result is a „conformal“ change in the receptor protein, which is essentially an adjustment in how the protein is spatially situated or folded.