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Vol 39  No 10
Feb. 22, 2007


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Researcher works with local firm to develop treatment for psoriasis

Below the surface
by Deborah Inkpen

Dr. Valerie Booth (Photo by Chris Hammond)

Dr. Valerie Booth is working in collaboration with a local St. John’s company to figure out the three-dimensional structure of proteins involved in the skin disease psoriasis, which has a high incidence rate in the province. Dr. Booth, Canada Research Chair in Proteomics, has been working with NewLab Clinical Research Inc., a medical research company founded by Dr. Wayne Gulliver, to do genetic research and clinical trials.

The company is currently moving into the field of developing patented protein-based drugs for psoriasis and other immune diseases in collaboration with Memorial. Memorial University’s structural proteomics laboratory, headed up by Dr. Booth, which studies protein molecules, is a full participant in the project with NewLab.

“Basically, you can think of proteins as little molecular machines and in lots of diseases, the machines don’t function as they are supposed to,” said Dr. Booth. “If you are trying to design a drug in order to treat someone with a disease, it really helps to know what the protein looks like.

“In psoriasis, there are a lot of mechanisms for the disease and one of the key ones that we are looking into is an inappropriate interaction between two proteins that keep the inflammation going. We’d like to stop those two proteins from interacting to turn the inflammation off.”

Dr. Booth said they have two projects going with NewLab. “The first has to do with a tiny peptide – a small protein called peptide T, which has shown some promise for treating psoriasis but it wasn’t as effective in clinical trials as it should have been – so we have determined its three-dimensional structure, which we are in the process of patenting right now. We are going to use that 3-D structure to design a more stable form of the peptide.

“We are also working on another project having to do with the gene called HLA-Cw6 which NewLab and others have found to be associated with psoriasis,” explained Dr. Booth. “We are studying the protein that the HLA-Cw6 gene codes for. By understanding the structure of the protein and how it interacts with other proteins, we are going to design new molecules that are going to stop HLA-Cw6 from interacting with the receptor which keeps the inflammation turned on in psoriasis.”

Dr. Booth’s group just had new major instrumentation funded by CFI and the Canada Research Chairs program – a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) which started operating in December 2006 and will make the study of the tiny molecules easier. Her and her team also utilize ACEnet’s high performance computing resources to run simulations.

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