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New Detergents for Drug Research

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The graphic shows a person on the left side. The right side shows schematically in three steps how a protein is released from a biomembrane by soap. © Leonhard Urner
Sensitive proteins (gray structure) can be better extracted from biomembranes with the help of novel soaps. The proteins can then be studied in detail for their potential use in new drugs.

Researchers at TU Dortmund University and Freie Universität Berlin have developed a process for producing new detergents for drug research. The purpose of the new detergents is to separate sensitive proteins from biomembranes so that they can be studied in detail for their use in drug research. The findings were recently published in the renowned journals Chemical Science and Current Opinion in Chemical Biology.

Proteins anchored in biomembranes are important starting points for the development of new drugs. Researchers use detergents to separate the proteins from the membranes without damaging their sensitive structures. Once separated, the proteins and the way they bind to active substances can be studied in detail. So far, it is unclear why it is only possible to make intact membrane proteins available for drug research with the help of certain detergents. “For decades, scientists have optimized detergents through trial and error,” explains Dr. Leonhard H. Urner, head of a junior research group at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology of TU Dortmund University. “We want to crack the detergent code in order to advance the development of new active ingredients.”

In a recent study published in Chemical Science, “scalable hybrid detergents” were developed and systematically examined on membrane proteins. The researchers discovered that an effective separation of proteins from biomembranes is related to the molecular shape and polarity of detergents. Both parameters can be described using mathematical models. “With the help of these models, we want to reduce the chemical complexity of detergents to simple numbers in order to enable experimental predictions for the study of membrane proteins,” explains Dr. Leonhard H. Urner.

Das Bild zeigt das Portrait eines Mannes © Aliona Kardash​/​TU Dortmund
Dr. Leonard Urner

In the second literature study, published in Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, the team additionally summarized a purification concept for proteins in order to better understand the influence of biomembranes on drug action. “With the help of scalable hybrid detergents and the purification concept, it should be easier in the future to study interactions between biomembranes, proteins and active ingredients and in this way develop new drugs,” says Urner.

Dr. Leonhard H. Urner came to TU Dortmund University at the beginning of 2022 via the Return Program of North Rhine-Westphalia’s Ministry of Culture and Science. The current work was also funded by the Ministry as well as by the Focus Area Nanoscale at FU Berlin and by the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie.

To the publication in Chemical Science

To the publication in Current Opinion in Chemical Biology

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Location & approach

The campus of TU Dort­mund University is located close to interstate junction Dort­mund West, where the Sauerlandlinie A 45 (Frankfurt-Dort­mund) crosses the Ruhrschnellweg B 1 / A 40. The best interstate exit to take from A 45 is “Dort­mund-Eichlinghofen” (closer to South Campus), and from B 1 / A 40 “Dort­mund-Dorstfeld” (closer to North Campus). Signs for the uni­ver­si­ty are located at both exits. Also, there is a new exit before you pass over the B 1-bridge leading into Dort­mund.

To get from North Campus to South Campus by car, there is the connection via Vogelpothsweg/Baroper Straße. We recommend you leave your car on one of the parking lots at North Campus and use the H-Bahn (suspended monorail system), which conveniently connects the two campuses.

TU Dort­mund University has its own train station (“Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät”). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dort­mund main station (“Dort­mund Hauptbahnhof”) and Düsseldorf main station via the “Düsseldorf Airport Train Station” (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 15 or 30 minutes). The uni­ver­si­ty is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.

You can also take the bus or subway train from Dort­mund city to the uni­ver­si­ty: From Dort­mund main station, you can take any train bound for the Station “Stadtgarten”, usually lines U41, U45, U 47 and U49. At “Stadtgarten” you switch trains and get on line U42 towards “Hombruch”. Look out for the Station “An der Palmweide”. From the bus stop just across the road, busses bound for TU Dort­mund University leave every ten minutes (445, 447 and 462). Another option is to take the subway routes U41, U45, U47 and U49 from Dort­mund main station to the stop “Dort­mund Kampstraße”. From there, take U43 or U44 to the stop “Dort­mund Wittener Straße”. Switch to bus line 447 and get off at “Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät S”.

The AirportExpress is a fast and convenient means of transport from Dortmund Airport (DTM) to Dortmund Central Station, taking you there in little more than 20 minutes. From Dortmund Central Station, you can continue to the university campus by interurban railway (S-Bahn). A larger range of international flight connections is offered at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), which is about 60 kilometres away and can be directly reached by S-Bahn from the university station.

The H-Bahn is one of the hallmarks of TU Dort­mund University. There are two stations on North Campus. One (“Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät S”) is directly located at the suburban train stop, which connects the uni­ver­si­ty directly with the city of Dort­mund and the rest of the Ruhr Area. Also from this station, there are connections to the “Technologiepark” and (via South Campus) Eichlinghofen. The other station is located at the dining hall at North Campus and offers a direct connection to South Campus every five minutes.

The facilities of TU Dortmund University are spread over two campuses, the larger Campus North and the smaller Campus South. Additionally, some areas of the university are located in the adjacent “Technologiepark”.

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