Exploradio Origins: The Importance of Understanding How Cells Take Out the Trash

Sep 26, 2019

To live and function, we know cells have to eat and reproduce. But, they also have to take out the trash. What seems like a simple chore to us is actually a matter of life or death for the cell, and drug designers are finding this useful in the fight against disease.

“If you have, let's say, something toxic to the cell, the cell tries to eliminate that toxin by encapsulating it and getting rid of it,” said Dr. Jürgen Bosch.

Cells form fatty acid bubbles around their garbage using a protein called ATG8. ATG8 has to connect, lock-and-key, with another protein, ATG3, in order to break down the trash in a process called “autophagy.” Bosch, a research scientist at Case Western Reserve University, designs drugs to try and mess up autophagy in disease cells.

“The drug has to be made in such a way that it fits into that interface between the two proteins,” Bosch said. “Ten years ago, people in the industry thought it's impossible.”

Bosch is designing drug molecules to stop ATG8 from fitting together with ATG3, stopping the autophagy, and killing the cell. Excitingly, for the Bosch lab, many diseases are vulnerable to this kind of drug, from malaria, to cancer, to fungal infections. All because cells need to take out the trash.