In order to retrieve sugar from blood, the body’s cells have special receivers on their surfaces for glucose that transports the sugar into the cell. David Drew wants to understand this essential process at a very detailed level.
The body’s cells primarily use glucose as a source of energy, and fat cells, for example, also need glucose in order to be able to store fat. The cells extract sugar from the blood by means of glucose transporters (GLUT): special proteins that carry the sugar into the cell.
David Drew, currently a research fellow at Imperial College London, will try to generate detailed images of GLUT, using so-called X-ray crystallography. With this method, he will shoot X-rays through crystals of GLUT. Within the crystal, those transporters will be packed symmetrically like water molecules in ice. When the X-rays hit the GLUT molecules, they will scatter – and from the resulting diffraction pattern, Drew will be able to create an image of the transporters that shows what they look like at the atomic level.
This is a high-risk project, but if he succeeds, Drew hopes the knowledge can contribute to the development of drugs against cancer, for example. For cancer cells, sugar is an important source of energy; breast cancer cells, for instance, have an increased number of GLUT on their surfaces.
As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Drew is offered to transfer to Stockholm University.