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Ren Receives NIH Funding to Build Modeling Tool that Accelerates Drug Discovery


photo of Pengyu Ren

One third of all proteins contain metal ions that are necessary for cell function. Protein dysfunction in cells causes disease. Understanding how proteins interact with these ions is important for developing drug therapies.

Metalloproteins, or proteins that bind with metal ions, are common drug targets for treating cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded biomedical engineering professor Pengyu Ren and his collaborators with a four-year $1.34 million grant to develop physical models and software programs that researchers will be able to use to better understand and predict protein-ion recognition and selectivity.

Ren and his collaborator, Dr. Jay Ponder from Washington University in St. Louis, are using computational modeling to better understand protein ion interaction and building a software tool that will be available to other researchers and drug makers who will be able to use it to make accurate predictions that are necessary for the drug discovery and design.

In addition to investigating protein ion interaction, Ren and Ponder are also working on computational design and modeling of nucleic acids, supported by another ongoing $1.13 million NIH grant.

The physical models and computing software developed in these researches will be freely available to other researchers and the public through the molecular modeling platform called TINKER.

Ren and his collaborator's computer-aided molecular modeling research will provide a tool that holds promise for future development of new therapeutic agents to treat cancer, infectious disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.