KU Research Team Uses Keck Award to Predict Protein Mutation Outcomes

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KU Medical Center
Image: kumc.edu

After earning her medical degree from Creighton University, Dr. Christie Mensch completed postdoctoral training at the University of Kansas (KU). To give back to her alma mater, Christie Mensch has provided financial support to the KU Medical Center, which remains a major research center.

The hospital is poised to emerge as a leader in the field of personalized medicine thanks to a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation that will let researchers develop new rules to predict how mutations in amino acids change the function of proteins. Genes code for specific proteins that in turn perform the functions of the cell. Proteins are built from strands of amino acids and the ultimate shape and function of the protein is determined by the sequence of amino acids. Mutations can cause the shape and function of a protein to radically change.

Currently, scientists have few tools to predict how mutations will alter the function of a protein. Computer algorithms designed to predict functional outcomes of mutations are correct only about 50 percent of the time. Conserved positions, meaning positions that have not been altered by evolution, follow a specific set of mutation rules, but a new set of rules needs to be written for nonconserved positions that have been altered by evolution. The KU researchers will use the Keck grant to study nonconserved positions in three different structural classes to create a library that can be used to derive new rules about the outcomes of mutations.

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