Proteins are the “workhorse” molecules of living systems, providing both the structural elements of cells and tissues, as well as molecular machinery that permits the myriad and complex functions of living systems. The production of large quantities of human proteins by genetic engineering technology has opened up a new field of human therapeutics known as “biopharmaceuticals”, and proteins are now the fastest-growing category of new drug approvals by the FDA. Some examples of biopharmaceuticals include erythropoietin (to treat anemia), tissue plasminogen activator (to treat myocardial infarction), and herceptin (to treat metastatic breast cancer). These are just a few examples; the FDA has currently approved over 300 biopharmaceuticals. The economic impact of such proteins is in the hundreds of billions of dollars; and the impact upon human health and quality of life has been immeasureable.
Basic scientific studies of protein structure and biophysical properties allow us to form hypotheses regarding the molecular basis of protein function. In turn, this knowledge allows us to propose ways in which proteins might be modified (i.e. “engineered”) to enhance their properties. Such “second generation” forms of proteins may permit more efficient application as biopharmaceuticals. Thus, one of the main goals of our research program is to both expand fundamental understanding of proteins and to apply this knowledge in the development of proteins for human benefit.