We still have a very poor understanding of how these processes work at the smallest scale, the molecular level."Dr Rafael Tapia-Rojo
12 September 2023
King's physicist awarded prestigious grant to develop new technology to measure how proteins behave under force
Dr Rafael Tapia-Rojo’s € 1.4 million Europe Research Council grant furthers his research on how mechanical forces regulate protein activity
Dr Rafael Tapia-Rojo from the Department of Physics has been awarded a € 1.4 million grant to further his research on how mechanical forces regulate protein activity, of critical relevance to many biological processes, including the progression of diseases like cancer.
A Lecturer in Biological Physics, Dr Tapia-Rojo's project hopes to develop and implement novel experimental methods to measure how proteins behave and interact under force. This research could unlock key findings on the relationship between protein behaviour and disease progression.
The field of mechanobiology, which tries to understand the role of mechanical forces in biology, is currently a very active area of research. However, as Dr Tapia-Rojo explains, “We still have a very poor understanding of how these processes work at the smallest scale, the molecular level. This is mostly due to the lack of experimental techniques capable of measuring the activity of these proteins under force.”
To overcome this limitation, Dr Tapia-Rojo and his team aim to develop and implement novel single-molecule approaches to understand how cells sense and respond to physical forces. To do that, they will develop a new single-molecule instrument combining fluorescence with ultra-stable magnetic tweezers.
As Dr Rafael Tapia-Rojo said:
“This new single-molecule instrument will allow us to mechanically stretch a single protein and simultaneously visualise how other protein partners bind to it, unveiling how force regulates these molecular interactions. This will not only allow us to unveil how these force-sensing processes work inside our body, but also understand how their misregulation could develop into some diseases.”
This will not only allow us to unveil how these force-sensing processes work inside our body, but also understand how their misregulation could develop into some diseases.Dr Rafael Tapia-Rojo
The research builds on Tapia-Rojo’s recent work which, in collaboration with Dr Marc Mora and Professor Sergi Garcia-Manyes from the Department of Physics, explored how critical proteins become misfolded and may lead to age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The grant received by Tapia-Rojo is funded by UK Research and Innovation via the ERC funding guarantee scheme. The European Research Council (ERC) funds outstanding researchers to carry out ‘high risk, high-reward research.’ The grants support emerging science talent to launch their most promising ideas as part of the Horizon Europe programme.