Cell membrane artwork, Alfred Pasieka, Science Photo Library, UIG
Cell membrane artwork, Alfred Pasieka, Science Photo Library, UIG


Cell membranes protect and maintain the interior of the cell, yet this process is not static. Membrane proteins actively work as pores, pumps, and receptors, determining which substances can pass into the inner sanctum of the cell.

Understanding membrane protein structures has been more difficult than other proteins in part because it is so difficult to isolate the proteins from their native environment. However, a better understanding how these "mini machines" act promises to have wide ramifications. Treatments that target membrane proteins represent 50% of modern medicinal drugs, a percentage that is likely to keep growing.

Discovering the shape of the proteins



The research of Dr. David Drew, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University, focuses on determining how these proteins transport nutrients like glucose across the cell membrane. Specifically, he turns the proteins into crystals and uses x-ray crystallography to reveal their 3-dimensional structure and functions.

One possible application of this knowledge is to be able to target drugs more effectively. In one example, he points out that cancer cells use more glucose than normal cells; therefore, targeting the protein membrane processes would harm cancer cells more than healthy ones.

Discovering the chemistry of the membranes



Professor Gunnar von Heijne, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, takes a different approach in his research on biomembranes. He is working with a model examining both the role of the proteins’ structures and the physical chemistry of the membrane – how the lipids and proteins interact.

A full understanding the intricacies of biological membranes will require numerous research groups working on new theories and models. Stockholm University has shown its commitment to this research profile area by hosting more than 20 research teams.

The teams explore different models and techniques. The theoretical and experimental approaches include research on cell biology, molecular biology, and bio -physics, -informatics, and –technology, among other exciting fields. The strong collaboration with SciLifeLab brings together researchers from Stockholm University, other top Swedish universities, and the world.