Health Frontiers

To design vaccines for deadly diseases like Ebola, it helps to know the language. In this case, it’s the chemical chatter between, say, a vaccine and the human immune system, a coded language that can switch on the destruction of viruses such as Ebola, malaria or HIV.

UC Irvine chemists are trying to decipher the immune system’s coding – to pick the molecular locks and open the door to vaccines that target the viral bull’s eye, with far fewer side effects than the more blunt instruments of traditional approaches.

Another initiative seeks to unravel the broader workings of biological systems, one atom at a time. By teasing apart the atoms and bonds that form the scaffolding of cells, and their internal machinery, investigators hope to engineer proteins and other vital components. They’ve already taken the first steps toward a long-sought goal: using biological markers to track the progression of diseases like cancer with an electronic readout. This could one day allow implanted sensors to flag cancer cells in a patient’s body and show them on a doctor’s display screen.

In another biotechnology breakthrough, a UC Irvine chemist helped discover how to unboil egg whites. The process, involving a chemical trick that liquefies boiled proteins in the egg whites and a “vortex fluid” device that forces the proteins to untangle, could lead to substantially lower costs for protein manufacturing – critical to the creation of cancer antibodies.