We had a seminar today about proteomics as a tool to study age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in this country. Basically what happens is that the patient gets protein deposits called drusen under the retina in the very center of it, and the presence of drusen either lead to getting AMD or are caused by it. One of the risk factors for getting AMD is smoking. As if there weren't already so many bad consequences from smoking, here is yet one more. Proteomics is the study of all of the proteins that are present in a cell. The researchers are studying retinas from AMD patients versus normal patients to see which proteins are expressed in one but not the other. The hope is that they can use this information to help them predict who is likely to develop AMD, and then they can start treating those people early on. There is no cure for AMD, but it is possible to slow the progression of the disease by doing things like giving anti-oxidants to the patient.
There were three speakers. The first one was a clinician who does research on AMD, and he showed us pictures of what the drusen look like. The second one was a mass spectrometrist who used mass spec to separate and identify proteins. (He really works on small peptides made by cutting the proteins up with the protease trypsin.) The third speaker was another researcher on AMD, but he was more interested in characterizing the proteins themselves that are part of the drusen.
Proteomics seems to be pretty painstaking and tedious work. There are thousands of proteins in the sample being studied, and somehow the ones of interest have to be detected and identified out of all that mess. That is not an easy problem to solve, but it's doable.