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Volume 23 / No. 1 / 2012
Cornell University
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Watching a Molecule Perform

A Conversation with Scott C. Blanchard, Physiology and Biophysics, Weill Cornell Medical College Blanchard
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The most effective disease treatments rely on getting tiny molecules inside the body to find and stop individual molecules from functioning.

SNEAD: Finding better drugs for devastating diseases has taken many different forms. You concentrate on single-molecule imaging. How might your approach achieve superior therapeutics?

BLANCHARD: With single-molecule imaging, we try to understand the mechanisms by which known drugs operate. These studies reveal that many of the most effective drugs work by preventing or altering the way molecules move when they function.

We are developing fluorescence techniques for single-molecule imaging that will allow us to see more clearly and rapidly the nature of molecular movements, their relationship to function, and how they can be targeted for therapeutic purposes.

A more precise understanding of the mechanisms of known drugs will ultimately inform the development of newer, more effective ones.

What does your strategy for seeing what a drug does entail?

Let me first talk about the motivation. More than half of all known antibiotics target the bacterial ribosome, the engine that makes all the proteins in the cell. We use them to treat eye or chest infections. They are so specific and effective at blocking the functions of the bacterial ribosome that we can take them orally, and they only block the bacterial ribosome and have no effect on the ribosomes in our own cells.

This amazed me as a student, and I wondered why diseases such as cancer couldn’t be treated in a similar way.

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