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Researchers identify molecular ‘cookie cutter’ technique for COVID-19 drug discovery

Researchers from the University of Birmingham are aiming to isolate and extract the COVID-19 encounter complex for the identification of drug-target sites for the disease.
The encounter complex is formed when the COVID-19 spike attaches onto a binding site on an ACE-2 receptor.
This is a complex protein embedded in cell membranes in the lungs and cells that line the nose and airways.
The encounter complex was first isolated last year, but these methods involved full extraction of ACE-2 receptors from cell membranes.
By removing the membrane’s supportive structure, the stability of the receptor is in turn affected. This makes it difficult to study its structure and function, said the University of Birmingham researchers.
The researchers are aiming to use polymer-based molecular ‘cookie cutters’ to isolate the encounter complex and ensure it remains embedded in the cell membrane.
The aim is to preserve the full structure of the molecule in its original form and keep it stable.
The researchers will use polymers known as Styrene Maleic Anhydrides, or SMAs, with the resulting structure known as an SMA lipid particle (SMALP).
The technique was invented by Professor Tim Dafforn from the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences.
The SMAs used in the study were provided by Orbiscope, a large-scale producer of SMAs for high-end applications.