Double dose of laser results could lead to improved medicines
03 Feb 2011





​​University of Bristol team in the ULTRA laser laboratory in the Research Complex at STFC RAL

Two papers resulting from research using STFC's Central Laser Facility (CLF) provide information that could prove vital for designing medicines more effectively have been published in the journals Nature and Science. The results from a paper from University of Bristol scientists are in Science today (3 February 2011) and results from a paper by scientists from the University of Oxford are in the special International Year of Chemistry edition of Nature published last month.

Solving the solvent mystery for better drug design

Using the unique capabilities of STFC's ULTRA laser system, scientists from the University of Bristol have been able to watch a chemical reaction happening in solution with more detail than ever before. This could lead to improved drug design for medical therapies and catalysts for industrial processing, and pave the way for further applications in bio- and atmospheric chemistry. The results are due to be published in Science Express online today (Thursday 3 February).

The ULTRA experiments, which took place at STFC's Lasers for Science Facility (LSF) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, will provide scientists with a unique insight into how liquid solvents affect chemical reactions at the molecular level. This can be in solution in liquids such as organic solvents or water.

Organic solvents are used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries for a wide range of industrial processes such as the manufacture of drug molecules for medical therapies. Similarly, much of the chemistry in the cells of living organisms takes place in solution so understanding these chemical reactions on such a fundamental level is vital.

Heading up the programme is Professor Andrew Orr-Ewing from the University of Bristol's School of Chemistry who said; "We are very excited by the results - especially as 2011 is International Year of Chemistry. Liquids have a disordered and rapidly changing structure, and collisions between molecules occur on timescales as fast as ten thousand billion collisions per second. It is now possible for us to examine chemical reactions within a solvent at unprecedented levels of detail on picosecond timescales (one thousand-billionths of a second). We wouldn~~t have been able to do this without the unique capability of the ULTRA laser."

The knowledge gathered during these experiments will be used to better inform computer models designed to simulate chemical reactions in liquids.

LSF is part of STFC's world leading Central Laser Facility (CLF) and is located in the new Research Complex at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The full paper can be found on the Science website (link opens in a new window).

Sugar boost for scientists planning ahead for future medicines

Scientists continuing to investigate a 50 year mystery have discovered another vital clue that could help pave the way for improved medicines. The results feature in a special edition of Nature celebrating the International Year of Chemistry. The findings reveal an important insight into the way carbohydrates (sugars) bond and this will influence the way drugs are designed in the future.

Using specialist laser equipment from the EPSRC-funded Laser Loan Pool managed by STFC~~s Central Laser Facility, Professors John Simons and Ben Davis together with co-workers from the University of Oxford, have challenged long standing theories that have until now, been based on observations and experiments made in solution.

For the first time, the shapes of carbohydrates have been revealed, both when they are free from any external influence, and when they are interacting with neighbouring molecules, such as water, or protein fragments. This enables the two states to be compared. These experiments have demonstrated what happens to the sugars when they are manipulated in different ways - a crucial factor in drug design where scientists need to ensure they will be able to control the way drugs work within the body.

The sugar, was examined by computational chemistry and pulsed laser spectroscopy using an ultraviolet laser borrowed from the Laser Loan Pool. The new results, exploring sugar-protein interactions, provide the best insight so far into these crucial biological contacts.

More information about this story can be found on the Nature website (link opens in a new window).

Contact: Springate, Emma (STFC,RAL,CLF)