September 03, 2010

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Early-stage drug screening often involves isolating a potential drug target and then mixing it with various molecules to see if they affect it. Unfortunately, that technique doesn't work well when the target is a protein like the receptor in cell membranes that detects the hormone insulin. Thanks to a partnership between a scientist in WPI's Bioengineering Institute and a contract research organization, pharmaceutical companies working on new drugs for diabetes may soon have a way to overcome that problem.

The partnership was the product of a chance conversation by the elevator—one that would likely never have happened if Christopher Lambert, the WPI scientist, and Norman Garceau, president and chief scientific officer of Blue Sky Biotech, the contract research organization, didn't both work in WPI's Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center. The center, which opened in 2007, was designed to promote just such collaborations by breaking down the barriers between academic departments and between university and corporate research programs.

Garceau and Lambert were able to combine their unique skills and their interest in diabetes to develop an engineered surface that models a human cell. "The project really builds on both our strengths," Garceau says. "It's just the kind of thing we hoped would happen when we came to Gateway Park."