However, a major challenge in designing drugs to target membrane proteins is the need for high resolution structural information. The symposium focussed on recent approaches devised to address the major challenges related to the expression, extraction, purification and crystallisation of membrane proteins and on the latest developments in X-ray crystallography experiments at Diamond to obtain structural information from these tiny, extremely fragile but very important crystals.
The symposium was staged at an important time for the field; it was also staged in a significant setting. Diamond hosts the world’s first dedicated Membrane Protein Laboratory (MPL) set within a synchrotron. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the MPL is a joint venture between Diamond and Imperial College London. Coupling facilities in this way is extremely useful in the field of membrane protein research. The intense light that synchrotrons provide allows scientists to determine the structure of membrane proteins far more quickly and easily than could be done in a normal laboratory. Membrane proteins are extremely difficult to crystallise, and often produce extremely small and fragile crystals. Collecting data from such crystals is not a straightforward task and the resolution of the X-ray diffraction data depends on both the crystal quality and on the characteristics of the data collection apparatus. Having the MPL located within Diamond allows scientists to address these difficulties by combining developments in crystallisation automation with state-of-the-art synchrotron instrumentation and software.
Diamond’s MPL is also special, in that it operates as a training facility for scientists wishing to learn more about working with membrane proteins. Under the guidance of mentors, scientists can learn about sample preparation and synchrotron studies in a dedicated laboratory environment and as they contribute to the field. Delegates had a taste of this by participating in sample preparation workshops run by the MPL staff in their labs. Diamond’s MPL is run by Isabel De Moraes, who helped to organise the symposium. She comments:
“It was great to see the enthusiasm of the symposium delegates during the lab sessions. The practical sessions were proper knowledge-transfer sessions with the delegates ‘absorbing’ all the information they could. I’m very pleased to see the MPL interacting with industry and also becoming a contact point regarding the latest technologies in membrane protein research.
The hands-on practicals also included workshops on data collection and analysis strategies run by Diamond’s Industrial Liaison team and MPL staff advising on the best approaches to obtaining high quality X-ray structural information from membrane proteins.
The great success of the Membrane Protein Structure Determination symposium highlights the vast potential of this area of research, as more and more organisations and individuals become involved in the field. Going forward, institutions like Diamond are likely to prove vital in the growth of membrane protein research, as technological advances support increasingly sophisticated approaches to membrane-targeted drug discovery.