Thanks to extremely short flashes of light thousands of times per second, scientists can film atoms. They hope to be able to see how medicines affect cells and, if possible, can make medicines without side effects.
The world's most powerful X-ray laser has been finished and tested. Now the first experiments begin.
The world's most powerful X-ray laser, European XFEL, has been taken into use. Once the experiments are well underway, countless scientific breakthroughs lie ahead.
Using ultra-short X-ray flashes - one millionth of a billionth of a second - that occur 27,000 times per second, scientists can film atoms in action.
This makes it possible, among other things, to record how drugs bind to the proteins in the cells. This may mean that it will become possible in the future to tailor medicines better and to eliminate side effects.
Unfocused medicines cause side effects
More than half of current drugs are small molecules that bind to proteins in the body's cell membranes.
For example, many drugs for mental illness bind to membrane proteins in the brain cells. When a drug activates a protein, a signal is sent to the cell, which then slows down or stops the disease process.
Most side effects arise because the drug also activates membrane proteins other than the desired.
Thanks to its many powerful and ultra-short flashes, the XFEL laser can film the three-dimensional, atomic construction of membrane proteins.
If the scientists know the structure of the membrane protein, they can make tailor-made medicines that are only effective at the desired location.
Researchers hope that psychopharmaceuticals and anti-virus medicines in particular will in time be free of side effects.