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article imageChemists 'unboil' eggs to prove how they can lower drug costs

By David Silverberg     Jan 26, 2015 in Science
Chemists from UC Irvine decided to unboil egg whites to demonstrate an innovation that could slash costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry.
How does the process of turning a solid back into a liquid offer a glimpse into cutting down cancer drug costs?
Scientists can use and recycle molecular proteins that may tend to "misfold" into minuscule shapes and structures when produced that actually make them unusable. To put it another way, the proteins scientists produce in the lab often end up like the spongy white material in a hard-boiled egg, but chemists want it to be more of a liquid like in a raw egg.
“It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. “The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material.”
A press release explains the complex process the chemists conducted:
To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, he and his colleagues add a urea substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material. That’s half the process; at the molecular level, protein bits are still balled up into unusable masses. The scientists then employ a vortex fluid device, a high-powered machine designed by Professor Colin Raston’s laboratory at South Australia’s Flinders University. Shear stress within thin, microfluidic films is applied to those tiny pieces, forcing them back into untangled, proper form.
How can this be applied in the real world? For example, the release notes, pharmaceutical companies currently produce cancer antibodies in expensive hamster ovary cells that don't often misfold proteins. "The ability to quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins from yeast or E. coli bacteria could potentially streamline protein manufacturing and make cancer treatments more affordable. Industrial cheese makers, farmers and others who use recombinant proteins could also achieve more bang for their buck," the release explains.
Eggs have long been used by scientists for similar experiments. We learn here how eggs are comprised of many "orderly and fluid protein structures." On average, around 12 percent of egg whites are protein, and the yolk is up to 16 percent protein. So, if you tweak the form of these proteins, you can impact the structure of an entire egg.
In related news, the New York Times posted a thorough Op-Ed on why drug costs are so high, noting:
Companies are taking advantage of a mix of laws that force insurers to include essentially all expensive drugs in their policies, and a philosophy that demands that every new health care product be available to everyone, no matter how little it helps or how much it costs. Anything else and we’re talking death panels.
More about Cancer, Chemistry, Eggs, unboil eggs, uc irvine
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