Looking Ahead Series: Insights on Innovation from the MEC Council and the Brightest Minds
There is certainly no shortage of themes for the MEC Looking Ahead series as we investigate and report on the most compelling new ideas in drug discovery. Recently, experts within the MEC Council network validated – the field of quantum biology. Quantum biology is an interdisciplinary field of science focused on applying quantum mechanical principles to biological systems. The merging of previously siloed fields of study and scientific inquiry engenders new partnerships in the lab that in turn produce novel approaches to medicine. Quantum biology is an excellent example of this phenomenon. This new field has been gaining traction over the past few years due to the growing need to better understand the complex interactions between biological systems and the quantum world. Success in better simulating and understanding these interactions and behaviors at the molecular level can accelerate drug discovery and potentially lower discovery costs. In short, quantum biology studies how tiny particles, like atoms and molecules, behave in living things. It examines how these particles interact with each other, how they affect the way our bodies work, and how they might influence disease. By understanding the quantum effects of these particles, scientists can learn more about how living things work and how we evolved.
Utilizing Quantum Biology in Life Sciences
Biological systems, such as plants or humans, require energy. It is the basic requirement of any animation. For example, energy is required to accomplish every single function required in our bodies, such as contracting our muscles to trigger movement, digesting food, and even thinking! The production of energy requires electrons, protons, and ions to transfer charges in different ways. Scientists are still trying to learn more about how these charges work together to ensure these functions are executed effectively, and to understand better the effects on health status or disease progression when they are disrupted.
Quantum biology differs from traditional biology in that it seeks to understand how quantum phenomena, such as entanglement, superposition, and tunneling influence biological systems. These phenomena govern interactions at the proton and electron levels that cannot be explained by traditional laws of physics. For example, researchers have studied how quantum effects might influence enzyme catalysis. Enzymes are essential for cellular function through their catalysis of biochemical reactions, and they often rely on the coupling of electrons and protons to control charge transport and catalysis. A better understanding of the way energy is transferred and used by enzymes may lead to new therapeutic targets and modalities. The way energy gets separated is so complicated that scientists don’t fully understand it yet. It’s like a chain of steps, and each step must happen exactly right for the entire process to work. If one of the steps is wrong, the whole thing won’t work.
A New Way of Thinking about Disease – Mitochondria Medicine and the Study of Energy in Disease
Quantum biology is being explored in many ways across the Life Sciences research and development community. For example, mitochondria are the citadel of energy, tiny structures inside our cells that act like batteries, providing the energy to help our bodies carry out all of their activities. Sometimes, mitochondria don’t work correctly, failing to provide adequate energy, which can cause many symptoms like fatigue, weakness, inability to exercise, seizures, and hearing or vision loss. There is also a growing school of thought in medical research that postulates mitochondria as central to addressing many important diseases. It’s very rare, but unfortunately about one out of every four thousand babies will be born with mitochondrial disease. Scientists are still trying to learn more about these illnesses to develop novel medicines targeting mitochondria to help mitochondria function properly again.
Additionally, enzymes help cells do important things. They are critical catalysts to make reactions happen more quickly than they would on their own. Scientists are trying to learn more about how enzymes behave at the molecular level. Scientists believe quantum mechanics may play a central role in situations where the interactions of tiny particles do things that don’t always follow the same laws of physics as bigger things. They’re also trying to figure out if there are special components of enzymes that catalyze the acceleration of chemical reactions at the cellular level.
Using another example, scientists are studying how certain chemicals can change the way our brains work. They studied small bugs called Drosophila and found that some chemicals, called general anesthetics, can make them go to sleep. They think that these chemicals change the shape of molecules, allowing electrons to travel in different ways. This may be what lets us fall asleep. To study this, they used tools from quantum theory, which looks at how tiny particles like electrons behave and measured something called electron spin. Further study in this area could give us a better understanding of how we can study consciousness.
We are excited to continue to study and learn about this emerging field of quantum biology. Stay tuned for future postings about emerging trends and innovations highlighted such multi-omcs, and so much more.
Source: Marais Adriana, Adams Betony, Ringsmuth Andrew K., Ferretti Marco, Gruber J. Michael, Hendrikx Ruud, Schuld Maria, Smith Samuel L., Sinayskiy Ilya, Krüger Tjaart P. J., Petruccione Francesco and van Grondelle Rienk 2018 The future of quantum biology J. R. Soc. Interface.152018064020180640