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Among other things, Swiss Light Source Synchrotron (SLS) operates protein crystallography beamlines
Among other things, Swiss Light Source Synchrotron (SLS) operates protein crystallography beamlines

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The Swiss Light Source (SLS) at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the free-electron laser (SwissFEL) provide beams of exceptional brightness and stability for research in material science, biology and chemistry. They are also accessible for industry users. At PARK INNOVAARE, a number of companies are already capitalizing on this state-of-the-art technology.

The combination of cutting-edge technologies and methods available at the Paul Scherrer Institute helps scientists and user companies achieve unprecedented results in their research activities and offer unique structure identification services.

As of June 2009, SLS has been operating eighteen experimental stations on seventeen beamlines, each of which is optimized for a specific technique. Materials can be studied in incredible detail with significant advantages over standard laboratory X-rays. Among other things, there are three protein crystallography beamlines, two of which have been partially funded by leading pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland. They are best suited for large unit cells and small crystals. In addition, the Institute has recently launched the free-electron laser (SwissFEL) to perform the time-resolved structure determination of biological specimens. Its ultra-brilliant light will also make it possible to determine the structures of very small protein crystals without radiation damage.

Rapid, non-destructive analysis of multicomponent mixtures

One of the most widespread composition determination methods is X-Ray Powder Diffraction (XRPD). It allows for the rapid, non-destructive analysis of multicomponent mixtures without the need for extensive sample preparation. Excelsus Structural Solutions (Swiss) AG, one of the resident companies at PARK INNOVAARE, specializes in Synchrotron X-Ray Powder Diffraction (S-XRPD), developed at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The company provides analytical services for pharmaceutical and other industries. Besides assuring easy access to state-of-the-art characterization tools for structural and microstructural analysis, the team assists its customers in designing and executing unconventional experimental setups. The company recently achieved outstanding results in pharmaceutical mixtures: it was able to push the lowest limit of detection (LoD) much further and hit 0.01 wt%.

A powerful method for determining absolute configuration

Another non-destructive analytical technique is Single-Crystal X-Ray Diffraction (SC-XRD); it helps identify the molecular structure of a compound. As its name indicates, this method analyzes one crystal, a periodical arrangement of identical building blocks, that creates a specific diffraction pattern. It is perfect for crystals of 0.5 μm or larger and has so far remained the most powerful method for determining a molecule’s absolute configuration or absolute structure. At PARK INNOVAARE, Crystallise! AG offers pharmaceutical companies such as F. Hoffman-La Roche and Vifor Pharma its outstanding know-how in the application of this method. Not only does its team perform the structural characterization of unknown or not fully characterized substances, it also performs the crystallization of challenging samples.

Enabling data collection from nanocrystals

Both XRPD and SC-XRD are very mature methods that complement each other; however, they have their limitations. For SC-XRD, not all the materials can form crystals big enough, or be crystallized at all. And in the case of powder diffraction, the signal of individual nanocrystals can be lost since the signal of a large number of crystals is averaged. Thus, Crystallise! AG is working together with the PSI to explore the potential application of well-known phenomena of Electron Diffraction (ED) in the field of organic compound analytics. This method enables data collection from nanocrystals not suitable for SC-XRD.

Cutting-edge research on membrane protein structure

Finally, in December 2016, the Paul Scherrer Institute launched the new 700-meter-long X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL. Recently taken into operation, it allows cutting edge research with one of the most advanced X-ray light sources available worldwide. For leadXpro AG, another fast-growing biotech company at PARK INNOVAARE specializing in membrane protein structure identification, the access to the SwissFEL enables the company to determine the structures from very small protein crystals without radiation damage.