The Novo Nordisk Foundation recently made the announcement to grant DKK 225 million to Lund University for the construction and operation of MicroMAX, a new beamline for the MAX IV research facility in Lund, Sweden. The beamline will become one of the world’s strongest protein microscopes and an important tool for researchers studying proteins.
“We are extremely pleased that the Novo Nordisk Foundation recognises the opportunities in this research area, and has chosen to finance MicroMAX here in Lund at MAX IV Laboratory. This will be an invaluable instrument to our researchers in the field of medicine”, says Erik Renström, dean of Lund University’s Faculty of Medicine.
Birgitte Nauntofte, CEO of the Foundation, says: “MicroMAX will benefit all researchers with an interest in the structure of proteins. The new beamline will enable important proteins to be investigated in greater detail than previously. In addition, it will strengthen the position of Greater Copenhagen as an international hotspot for outstanding and ambitious protein research.”
Karin Lindkvist is a specialist in protein crystallography and one of the researchers at the Faculty of Medicine for whom MicroMAX will be of great significance.
Why are medical researchers interested in knowing the structure of proteins at the atomic level?
“Proteins are one of the key molecules enabling the body to function. If we can see what they look like and how they interact with their surroundings, we can also understand how they work and what they do. This knowledge is crucial when developing new drugs. Knowing the structure of a protein makes it easier to design drugs that are suitable for and control the protein’s function. Quite simply, it helps us to cleverly design new drugs.”
How did it feel to hear that MicroMAX is now completely financed?
“Amazing! It’s something we’ve been waiting for. MAX IV is the most brilliant synchrotron radiation facility in the world and has been a huge boost for structural biology in Lund, Sweden – and worldwide. Obviously, having it nearby is a great opportunity for us.
What’s the big deal about MicroMAX?
“In order to study what proteins look like, we produce crystals of them which we then illuminate using a strong X-ray beam. But this is a very complex process and the crystals are not always that stable, especially when it comes to small crystals. Meanwhile, large crystals are hard to produce. Thanks to MicroMAX, we will be able to study even the small protein crystals and see which molecules are important for how the proteins bind to their surroundings.
They say that MicroMAX will mean a lot to research on proteins located in the cell membrane. What will you be exploring with the help of the new beamline?
“Membrane proteins (my field of research) play an important role in many diseases. They say that more than 50 per cent of all drugs target membrane proteins, as they are in charge of the communication between the cell and its environment. One example is how cells need glucose (sugar) to survive. But glucose is unable to penetrate the cell membrane that easily; instead, it uses different openings in the membrane. These are opened and closed with the help of membrane proteins, acting as door openers. We believe that, for example, cancer cells take advantage of this function to steal food from our fat cells.If we can block the proteins and prevent them from opening the channels into the membrane, perhaps we can prevent cancer cells from surviving, or at least make them more sensitive.”