£1m investment puts university at cutting edge of drug research

PHARMACEUTICAL firms have a constant need for data which tells them how drugs interact with the body.

The University of Huddersfield has carried out a £1m-plus investment which means it is well-placed to help develop drugs that could improve the quality of patients’ lives.

X-ray crystallography – which enables scientists to examine the make-up of molecules in graphic detail – plays a vital role in the development of new drugs.

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The University of Huddersfield lab has six new X-ray diffractometers which produce detailed images of the molecules present in a tiny crystal or, in some cases, a powder. Once, the use of X-rays to produce an analysis of molecules could have taken years. Now it can be done in less than an hour.

The lab’s six diffractometers have been supplied by the manufacturing company Bruker, with whom the university has formed a partnership. The facility is now operational, and the university reports heavy demand from researchers.

Pharmacy is one of the most important fields for crystallography.

Professor Craig Rice, the chemist who heads Huddersfield’s X-ray Diffraction Laboratory, said the technology can be used to analyse what is known as “structure activity correlation” – the way that a drug interacts with the body.

He added: “And if you know how a drug works then you can develop that drug further. You can hone it and make improvements without being in the dark. X-ray crystallography means you really know what is going on.”

X-ray diffractometers, such as the six installed at the University of Huddersfield, operate automatically and have simplified the process of molecular analysis.

The greatest challenge to scientists remains the production of a crystal of an enzyme or protein. It is a process that can take many months. An alternative is to analyse the molecular structure of a powder, which is simpler to produce, although it furnishes less information. The Huddersfield lab includes powder diffractometers.

“The diversity of our equipment means that this facility is one of the best in Europe,” said Professor Rice.