Chemists have created a molecular scalpel: it can remove unwanted proteins from the cell surface

Chemists at Stanford University have developed a new class of molecules that carry unwanted proteins from the cell’s surface or environment into the lysosome, a cellular compartment dedicated to protein degradation. These molecules, called chimeras, work by selectively labeling a protein with a tag. This selective degradation could help researchers study and treat diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, which are caused by surface proteins, Nature reports.

When scientists find a potentially dangerous protein in a cell, they can imagine themselves shrinking, becoming tiny surgeons, and cutting out only the problematic molecule and leaving healthy parts of the cell intact. While dexterous hands and sharp instruments can never excise a single protein from a cell’s surface, a new molecular instrument could make cell surgery easier, according to a study.

It’s like a molecular scalpel. This tool allows you to accelerate the natural degradation of one single protein among all the different proteins that are inside or outside the cell.

Stephen Banick, research lead author

Proteins are vital for many biological processes such as metabolism and intercellular communication, but some of them can also help in diseases such as cancer and avoid immune regulation.

Protein-breaking strategies can not only expand drug use but also improve therapies that already exist.