IRVINE (CBSLA.com) — Researchers at UC Irvine, along with Australian collaborators, have figured out a way to unboil egg whites in an advancement that could potentially slash costs for cancer treatments, food production and other processes, according to a new report.
The process involves pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold, an effort that has long failed due to valuable molecular proteins that frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes when they are formed, rendering them useless, according to Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry.
Researchers start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius in order to return a key protein in the egg to working order, according to Weiss.
This solid state was used to mimic cancer.
To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, he and his colleagues add a substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material, Weiss said.
Once that’s completed, scientists then employ what’s known as a vortex fluid device, a high-powered machine that applies stress to the tiny protein bits, forcing them back into untangled, proper form.
“It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” Weiss said. “The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material.”
Scientists hope the method will transform industrial and research production of proteins that could ultimately help pharmaceutical companies quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins from yeast or E. coli bacteria to potentially streamline protein manufacturing and make cancer treatments more affordable.
UCI has filed for a patent on the research, and its Office of Technology Alliances is working with interested commercial partners, Weiss said.
“What we want to do is we want to use this to try to develop new therapies and new diagnostics against cancer, using this approach,” Weiss said.
The reason Dr. Weiss says the researchers decided to use eggs was their complicated proteins’ similarity to many anti-cancer therapies.
“When we boil eggs, the proteins get unwound, and then they tangle together, and when proteins get tangled together, they are difficult to pull apart,” Weiss said. “We need ways to pull apart proteins, because then we can apply those methods to producing proteins that are useful, for anti-cancer treatments and other processes.”