ChemWeb Newsletter

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This week, The Alchemist learns of a discovery that could lead to a new therapeutic target for a whole range of diseases in which the inflammatory response is involved, almost a medical Panacea. An out of this world approach to liquid telescopes could overcome the big obstacle in making such a device useful for astronomy. The protein spike on the surface of the Ebola virus is laid bare by X-ray crystallography and could lead to new treatments for slowing outbreaks. Birds of prey could be the new environmental "canary" when it comes to toxic heavy metal, according to Spanish researchers. Japanese researchers have taken individual rotaxanes for a spin and obtained some dynamic snapshots. Finally, the Michael J Fox Foundation has announced its annual round of funding for Parkinson's therapeutic lead research.

Researchers at the Universities of Osaka and Kyoto have now met the challenge of observing rotational motion on the molecular scale in an individual, supported rotaxane molecule using defocused wide-field total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. The snapshots are obtained as emission patterns of the individual molecular rotors in motion. The researchers found that the cuff of the rotaxane does not rotate if the sample is dry but when it is wet they observed rapid rotational and vibrational motion with the cuff rotating through 360 degrees in 300 milliseconds.

$2.4 million has been awarded to nine research teams to validate nine promising therapeutic targets in Parkinson's disease. To attract an industry sponsor with the resources and expertise to chaperone any new therapeutic requires a critical mass of evidence. This award could help any one of the nine teams bring a target to the point where optimization, preclinical work and ultimately clinical testing, will be viable. Projects funded in this cohort of Target Validation awardees fall into three categories: targets for therapies to alleviate symptoms of PD; approaches focused on dyskinesias, the excessive, uncontrollable movements brought on by long-term dopamine replacement therapy; and targets with potential to slow or stop progression of Parkinson's.

The success of certain arthritis drugs could point to new treatments for a whole range of diseases, including atherosclerosis according to UK scientists. Marc Feldmann of the University of Manchester and colleagues report to the 2008 Congress of European Pharmacological Societies how drugs that target cytokines released by immune cells work by reducing the autoimmune response seen in arthritis but blocking just one cytokine, Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha, blocks all cytokines involved in inflammation, with remarkable clinical results, the researchers say. anti-TNF alpha drugs, such as infliximab, etanercept and adalimumab, could find a new role in treating a wide range of inflammatory diseases.

A spinning puddle of mercury in a bowl would be an almost perfect reflector for a telescope on the moon. But, they have a major drawback, they can only point straight up, which limits the range of sky that might be observed with such a telescope. Denis Brousseau at Université Laval in Quebec reckons strong magnetic fields could be the answer. Unfortunately, they would have to be incredibly strong to control mercury at anything but horizontal, so the team has turned to nanotechnology and suspended tiny ferromagnetic particles in oil on to which a thin highly reflective layer of silver particles can be spread to create a magnetic mirror that could stand up to closer observations. It would also weight a lot less than a mercury telescope and so would make transportation to our lunar companion a lot less costly.

A detailed X-ray crystallographic determination of the surface glycoprotein spike of the Ebola virus could help researchers explain why this pathogen is so lethal and may provide new targets for preventative measures to stop the virus spreading during an outbreak. Erica Ollmann Saphire, Dennis Burton, and colleagues at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, determined the structure of the viral glycoprotein, the only protein present on its surface. Their study suggests that the structure reveals several important features that offer clues as to how it attaches to cells prior to infection.

Two characteristics of birds of prey, raptors, make them ideal for studying the potential environmental impact of heavy metal pollutants. First, individual birds have an extensive territory. Secondly, they are at the top of the food chain and so are exposed to heavy metals accumulated from animals and plants below them in the ecosystem. Now, researchers from the Universidad de Extremadura and from the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain have revealed that raptors are accumulating exposed to potentially lethal levels of lead and cadmium. Their data comes from a comparative study of the birds in Galicia and Extremadura and could in some sense be extrapolated to humans in terms of exposure to these metals.