SLAC study may lead to better blood pressure drugs

May 3, 2015, 1:45 p.m.
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Sebastian Boutet, a staff scientist at SLAC, and other research associates used x-rays in order to observe how blood pressure drugs interact with cells on the atomic level. (Courtesy of SLAC National Acclerator Laboratory.)

In a recent study, researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory used x-rays to observe the atomic processes that take place when blood pressure drugs interact with cells. Resulting discoveries may lead to more effective treatments for patients who suffer from hypertension.

According to Sébastian Boutet, a staff scientist at SLAC, drugs designed to treat high blood pressure, known as ARBs, work by blocking receptors in the cell membrane to prevent them from binding with angiotensin II, a hormone that constricts blood vessels resulting in increased blood pressure.

SLAC researchers wanted to investigate exactly how these ARBs bind with the receptors in the cell membrane as well as what this process looks like at the atomic level.

Their careful research and powerful x-ray technology led them to discover that many previous hypotheses about the molecular model of the joined ARB and cell receptor were wrong.

Boutet believes that their now-correct understanding of the molecular reaction will lead to the development of more efficient drugs.

“This is the first time people have seen the structure of the molecule with a drug attached to do it doing its work, this allows people to better see how the drug interacts with the molecule…. and this could lead to better drugs,” Boutet said.

Though these developments are exciting, Boutet admits that new drugs based on these findings may be years away.

“That process is always time consuming — it’s a five to 10 year process all by itself. This research allows people to go back to their jobs and take a look at this structure and design a new drug that is a little bit different than what exists now. Then, it can be tested,” Boutet said.

However, the importance of understanding this process is nonetheless substantial.

“Our research…does not directly lead to a drug but leads to an understanding that will allow someone to design a new drug. It might never happen or it might happen in 10 years,” Boutet added.

According to Boutet, there is also incredible potential for research into molecules that function in similar ways.

“There is a very large number of similar molecules in our body and most of them are not well understood. There is a long list of potential molecules that can be studied in the same way that have implications in many physiological problems,” Boutet said.

 

Contact Zachary Brown at zbrown ‘at’ stanford.edu

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