diseaseDevelopments in chemical analysis over the last few decades has opened up the molecular world to us in exquisite detail.

Rapid methods now exist for the synthesis of proteins from animo acids and the radioactively labelled antibodies they contain. The cellular constituents can be measured to the billionth of a gram. The job of the cell membrane is to move materials into and out of the cell, conduct messages, perform vital functions, provide energy, and to protect the cell against toxins. Membrane chemistry is therefore a major field of study.

The biochemistry of disease is also of great interest to the modern chemist. Inherited disease is seen to involve defective enzymes from inborn errors of metabolism from defective genes. Changes in a single molecule in the DNA of one chromosome can result in the substitution of a single amino acid, out of many hundreds in a protein, resulting in a life threatening malfunction.

The human immune system has two major mechanisms:
1. Special cells called leukocytes
and macrophages.

2. Antibodies
A great deal of research is ongoing to determine the biological properties of the antibodies and which antigens will combine with them.

Hormones are also of great interest. These chemicals are secreted directly into the blood stream by endocrine glands under the influence of neurotransmitters released by the hypothalamus. The neurotransmitters are ‘received’ by the pituitary and causes the release of hormones from the pituitary, which then travel around the blood to activate or depress the activity of the glands in the endocrine system. Once the hormones are received by the endocrine glands, the glands then initiate metabolic changes that can easily be detected by modern pathology laboratories.

Many diseases can now be recognised by their biochemical signature, for example cancer appears to result from changes in the nucleic acids which add or subtract portions of DNA molecules, and result in parts called proto oncogenes which then break off from their chromosome, alter themselves chemically and react with certain virus’ called retroviruses.

Genetic engineering then concerns itself with altering the gene sequences to correct these perceived deficiencies and the rest is going to be history!