Throwing a wrench at cancer
Wnt protein is widely recognized as a crucial component of vertebrate development. For more than three decades, scientists have sought to understand the structure of this important molecule. Unfortunately, obtaining a detailed understanding of Wnt's structure has proven to be quite difficult. After much work, a research group led by Dr. K. Christopher Garcia at Stanford University published the structure of Wnt bound to its target protein in June 2012. This binding event is partially facilitated by a fatty acid, an addendum to Wnt that is known to complicate molecular structure determination.
Wnt protein is secreted into the space around growing cells. It then binds to its target (Frizzled protein) on the surface of some of these cells. The attachment of Wnt to Frizzled leads to the transmission of a signal into the cell, which alters the development and physiological behavior of that cell by changing the way that the cell accesses the information in its DNA. This signaling event is modified by a number of supplementary proteins in the same pathway.
Our current project aims to replace naturally occurring Wnt with a surrogate protein through protein engineering methods. In a successfully engineered project, the newly created protein will show its ability to bind to the target (Frizzled in this case) during real life validation tests. We are submitting the structure of the target (Frizzled) and a potential binder Helix to you!
The creation of a successful Wnt-surrogate binder will signify an important advance in our ability to quickly employ emerging scientific data to facilitate the clinically-focused goals of our team of molecular engineers. Binding to Frizzled should allow us to interrupt the Wnt signaling pathway in a way that will be immediately useful as a tool for the many laboratories that are focused on human development. Looking farther into the future, control of the Wnt signaling pathway may allow us to limit the growth of Wnt-mediated tumors and may even prove useful in tissue engineering. Through the efforts of the scientists in the Baker Lab, our partners who dedicate their computing time to Rosetta@home, and Foldit players, we will begin testing the preliminary designs for a Wnt surrogate at our principal laboratory in Seattle soon.
Try out the new Frizzled Design Puzzle now: