Matthew Meyer’s educational background incorporates math, physics, chemistry and biology. He uses all those disciplines in his research, working to develop targeted pharmaceuticals for problems like asthma, arthritis and even cancer.
“Most drugs work by binding specific receptors or enzymes in the body,” explains Meyer, a new professor in the School of Natural Sciences. “The problem is that sometimes they are not very specific in the way they work.” That leads to side effects, like the heart problems caused by pain medications recently pulled off the market. Meyer’s research aims to better understand what happens at the atomic and molecular level when these medicines are at work.
For example, in one project, he plans to make physical measurements that describe, atom by atom, how the natural substrate for soybean lipoxygenase 1 binds to that enzyme at crucial points in the reaction pathway. This research is to be the jumping-off point of a study of human lipoxygenases, whose malfunction has been implicated in a number of diseases such as atherosclerosis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Next, he will use these physical measurements to develop a program for the systematic construction of molecules that specifically bind to a given lipoxygenase. Further testing would help determine whether the resulting medication would be effective.
In another project, Meyer aims to develop a general method by which artificial peptides can be screened for their ability to bind specifically to G protein-coupled receptors, a large class of receptors in the body that are responsible for intercellular signaling. Since between 30 and 50 percent of current drugs on the market target G protein-coupled receptors, the economic impact of such a method could be tremendous. Meyer says he will first attempt this method on a couple of receptors that have been linked to asthma, atherosclerosis, and several cancers. Furthermore, artificial peptides that stimulate these two receptors may be used to halt the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
“I got into this kind of research because I want to have a greater impact on the world,” Meyer says. “If I can develop effective techniques for making better medicines with fewer side effects, those are tools that drug manufacturers can use to make pharmaceuticals that are cheaper and safer for everyone.”