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IMAGE: Peng Zhang, PhD (left), and Yajun Zhang, PhD, were part of the research team at the University of Virginia School of Medicine that developed a new technique to create safer… view more 

Credit: Dan Addison | University of Virginia Communications

A new technique for precisely targeting molecules within cells is paving the way for safer medicines that are free of side effects.

Researcher J. Julius Zhu, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and his colleagues have developed a way to manipulate molecules from compartment to compartment within individual cells. Amazingly, the same molecules do different things depending on their location, the researchers determined. By manipulating the molecules, scientists can determine exactly which locations to target, while avoiding locations that would cause harmful side effects.

“The problem with side effects is caused because you just could not distinguish the molecules doing different things in the same cell,” Zhu explained. “If you blocked a molecule, you blocked it regardless of what it was doing. And that usually has unwanted side effects. Almost every drug that can treat disease has side effects, either major or minor, but usually they always have something.”

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