How a molecular assassin operates

The secrets of a molecular assassin could lead to more effective treatments for cancer and viral diseases, better therapy for autoimmune conditions, and a deeper understanding of the body’s defences enabling the development of more tightly focused immunosuppressive drugs.

How a molecular assassin operates
In this simulation, the perforin molecule (blue) punches a hole through the cell membrane (beige) providing access for toxic enzymes (red). Credit: Mike Kuiper
These are just some of the wide-ranging possibilities arising from research which has revealed the structure and function of the protein perforin, a front-line weapon in the body’s fight against rogue cells.

A pivotal role was played by 2006 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, molecular biologist Prof James Whisstock and his research team at Monash University. It was research fellow Dr Ruby Law who finally worked out how to grow crystals of perforin. And the team was then able to collaborate with Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies of the micro-crystallography beamline at the nearby Australian Synchrotron to reveal its complete molecular structure.
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