Researching a Beer Molecule for KinDex Therapeutics  
1/18/2013 8:26:28 AM

One UW professor’s research is an unlikely brew. Werner Kaminsky, a crystallographer and UW professor of chemistry, closely studied a molecule called humulones, which is found in bitter beers, and his results contradicted previous findings about the molecule. His findings were published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie last week. Kaminsky’s studies involved identifying the structure of the humulones molecule by using technology called X-ray crystallography. The atoms diffract the X-ray beams in a way that shows the molecule’s structure. Yet through his research, he discovered something else. Previous research hadn’t found handedness and assumed uniformity between the molecules. Handedness results when a molecule can be arranged in two different ways with the same atoms. Jan Urban, a chemist who worked on the project with Kaminsky, said the handedness of a molecule is like the difference between a left hand and a right hand — they are the same but differently arranged. She said handedness can have huge effects on how the molecule works in pharmaceuticals. “To me, it was surprising that something was out there for 40 years, and it’s wrong,” she said. “Nobody seemed to come across that so far.” Kaminsky’s research was conducted for a Seattle-based pharmaceutical company called KinDex Therapeutics, which is working to use this molecule in a therapeutic drug to treat people with glucose management issues and insulin sensitivity. The company is now performing more trials of this molecule for use in treatment. “We wanted to really get it right,” Kaminsky said. “It’s not being secretly done, and it’s not to prove someone wrong. It’s just to get the right result.” Urban said the beer compound has a variety of benefits, but correctly identifying the structure was the project’s primary focus. “Imagine if you go to play baseball, and you are going to buy a baseball mitt, you should be pretty certain whether you are buying it for right-handed or left-handed player,” she said. “If you don’t get the structure right, it will be really difficult to find where the compound binds.”