PULLMAN, Wash. – Water molecules can
be nature’s navigational system for a family of molecules needing to find specific
locations in some of our genes, a Washington State University researcher has
in the Journal of Biological Chemistry,
WSU’s Dr. Gregory Poon has found it is water that gives the family of molecules
he has been studying the ability to target a precise location in the on-off
switch regions of genes.
finding may contribute to new and more efficient medications that target cancer
and the immune system, said Poon, a researcher and assistant professor in the Department
of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
drug discovery one is always looking for ways to find out how to target a
specific response and spare the other functions in a cell that do not
contribute to disease,” Poon said.
laboratory has been studying a family of molecules – called ETS transcription
factors – that control the development and functions of certain white blood
cells. The molecules are needed for normal functions, but if they develop
mutations, they can lead to cancer, Poon said. Research has shown these
molecules are involved in several human and animal leukemias, and emerging
research also suggests that they also play a role in infectious diseases such
as anthrax, Poon said.
scientist marveled at the body’s use of water in this way.
“Cells are remarkably efficient in terms of
the tools they use to switch genes on and off,” Poon said. “There are far more
genes than types of tools at the cell’s disposal, which means that these cells
must evolve diverse and clever ways to perform highly specialized functions at
specific locations in the genome.”
describes the navigational ability of water imparts to these molecules this
way: “It’s like being able to identify one particular house on a long, winding
street by knowing its size and distance from the curb.”
research is one of the continuing projects in Poon’s lab. Another major research
focus is the targeted delivery of protein toxins to kill cancer cells.
joined the WSU faculty four years ago after completing a Ph.D. in
pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Toronto, Canada, and a post-doctoral
fellowship at the Ontario Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Genomics and