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First Australian team wins beam time on world's most powerful X-ray laser

June 6th, 2011

Australian researchers investigating the structure of membrane proteins for improving drug development are the first Australians to be awarded access to the world's most powerful X-ray laser.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science (CXS), headquartered at the University of Melbourne is the first Australian research institution to be selected to use the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a new form of laser that produces incredibly intense pulses of the very penetrating light known as X-rays, based at Stanford University, California, USA.

The CXS experiments at the LCLS have the potential to demystify complex molecular problems and dramatically improve drug development.

Professor Keith Nugent, Laureate Professor and ARC Federation Fellow at the University of Melbourne and Director of CXS said it was a huge achievement and validation for the calibre of Australian led research.

"The California-based free-electron laser is the only facility currently operating in the world and the competition to come up with original and important ideas is brutal.

"Our award of experimental time underlines our world-leading position in this area," he said.

The researchers will use the beam line to trial a new technique to find the structure of membrane proteins, a discovery that will help fast track the development of targeted drugs.

About 70% of drugs on the market today depend on the activity of membrane proteins, which are complex molecules that form the membranes of the cells in our body.

"Our Australian Synchrotron is state-of-the-art and Australia is a world-leader in X-ray science. University of Melbourne graduates occupy leading positions in this field all over the world.

"Gaining access to this new facility is further recognition of our extraordinary national strength," Professor Nugent said.

The CXS proposal was rated in the top 10 percent of the 114 international proposals. The selection panel said the CXS proposal of investigating structure determination of biomolecules with X-ray XFEL is considered to be very promising.

CXS will begin their experiments at LCLS in January 2012.

Provided by University of Melbourne

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