Chemical and Structural Biology

Working at the junction of chemistry and biology, researchers in the Chemical and Structural Biology Theme within McGill University’s Life Sciences Complex (LSC) investigate key cellular pathways that are important in the disease process. Their discoveries hold enormous potential for advancing biopharmaceutical research.

"The output of the research discoveries from the LSC has proved to be remarkably strong and diverse," says Dr. David Y. Thomas, former Theme Lead for Chemical and Structural Biology, Professor of Biochemistry and a tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Molecular Genetics, who was a key player in the creation of the LSC. "We have multiple and substantial interactions with colleagues nationally and internationally, including scientists, clinicians and companies. We also have partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies and there have already been a series of McGill spin-off companies founded by LSC researchers, with more in incubation."


Three big breakthroughs in Chemical and Structural Biology


1. Engineering parkin to reduce Parkinson's effects: Dr. Kalle Gehring, Professor of Biochemistry, collaborated with Dr. Edward Fon of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Jean-François Trempe, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, to uncover the crystal structure of the PARK2 (parkin) gene, mutations of which play a role in hereditary Parkinson's disease, as well as other forms of the disease. The researchers then created new mutations to help parkin better recognize damaged mitochondria and thereby enhance its neuroprotective properties. This important discovery, published in Science in 2013, marked a significant step toward developing new therapies to treat Parkinson's.

Science. 2013 Jun 21;340(6139):1451-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1237908. Epub 2013 May 9.


2. Mapping nature to build new drugs: Dr. Martin Schmeing, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, has done much to advance our understanding of how nature produces a number of our most important drugs, from antibiotics, anti-virals and anti-fungals to anti-rejection and anti-cancer drugs. Dr. Schmeing's lab is focused on mapping the structure of non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS), enzymes that produce many of the small molecules involved in the biosynthesis of these very therapies. Using the LSC's sophisticated X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy equipment and other biochemical techniques, Dr. Schmeing has made phenomenal progress in unlocking the mysterious mechanism behind their assembly line-like process, opening the door to the development of new drugs.

PNAS January 3, 2017114(1)95-100; published ahead of print December 19, 2016


3. Creating an interdisciplinary centre to accelerate cystic fibrosis research: A major interdisciplinary initiative has been the development of the McGill Cystic Fibrosis Translational Research Centre (CFTRc). Directed by Professor John Hanrahan, the CFTRc brings together researchers and clinicians engaged in developing cures for cystic fibrosis. Although the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis was found 29 years ago, an effective therapy based on the basic defect has been slow to develop. The CFTRc has made major contributions to our understanding of this genetic disease and strategies for its cure. One recent study originating from the CFTRc is highlighted in the Cell Information Systems theme, while another recent publication lays out the pathway for effective therapeutics development.


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