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Life Science basic research on the top level

15.8.17

Prof. Dr. Gebhard Schertler (on the left) and his team focus on membrane protein structure and function research.

  • Prof. Dr. Gebhard Schertler (on the left) and his team focus on membrane protein structure and function research.

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The Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) is Switzerland’s biggest research institute for natural and engineering sciences. It hosts most of the country’s large research infrastructures, including the synchrotron Swiss Light Source SLS and, most recently, the Swiss X-Ray Free-Electron Laser SwissFEL. It is also home of the world’s first pencil beam scanning proton therapy facility. Along with matter and materials, energy and environment, human health is a strategic focus area of the research activities at the PSI. The Institute provides perfect conditions for basic and translational biological research. In the last two years, several PSI spin-off companies have been established in or relocated to PARK INNOVAARE.

With its unique combination of large research facilities, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) offers outstanding opportunities for fundamental biological research. Its Division of Biology and Chemistry hosts the Laboratory of Biomolecular Research (LBR), which works on three broad, overlapping topics: membrane protein structure and function, structure-functional relationships of macromolecular assemblies of the cell, and the development of new methods for structural analysis of biomolecules.

Outstanding conditions for basic research

The laboratory is exceptionally well equipped. In particular, the lab hosts:

  • Extensive biophysical instrumentation that includes a number of state-of-the-art instruments for characterizing protein stability and the affinity of biological interaction;
  • An electron microscopy facility that provides images of biological macromolecules and organelles in an intact hydrated state, while computational image analysis enables three-dimensional reconstruction.

LBR strongly benefits from the on-site interaction with the large research facilities at the PSI such as:

  • The Swiss Light Source (SLS): Three of its eighteen beamlines are specially optimized for macromolecular crystallography (MX) and allow cutting-edge structural analysis of proteins. Both LBR and MX teams work closely together in several areas, in particular in in situ diffraction screening and data acquisition. In addition, researchers at LBR are intensively involved in the development of a novel ptychographic method allowing for x-ray tomographic imaging of unstained tissue section of up to 100 µm3.
  • The X-Ray free-electron laser SwissFEL: Recently inaugurated, it will enable researchers to perform time-resolved structure determination of biological specimens. Its ultra-brilliant light will also allow the determination of structures from very small protein crystals without radiation damage.

Perfect environment for research and entrepreneurship in Life Sciences.

The outstanding technical conditions, combined with the know-how and expertise of world-leading scientists from the Swiss Light Source SLS and from other labs of the Institute, have already made it possible to determine over 4700 protein structures. With the launch of SwissFEL, the research is being brought to a new level.

The research conducted at the PSI on membrane proteins can open up new ways for better drug discovery. For example, one major research focus at LBR is that of G-Coupled Protein Receptors (GPCR). “Over 30% of today’s drugs target this group of proteins,” explains Professor Gebhard Schertler, Head of Division Biology and Chemistry (BIO). With the support of BIO, two PSI spin-offs, InterAx Biotech AG and leadXpro AG, have already transitioned academic research to industrial application. Another spin-off, Excelsus Structural Solution, emerged from the scientific environment of the SLS five years ago and is now located at PARK INNOVAARE.


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