Research has shown that dexamethasone, a widely available steroid, can significantly reduce the chance of death from COVID-19. However, because of the way dexamethasone is transmitted throughout the body, it may be less effective in patients with diabetes, according to new research performed at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.

A research team led by scientists at the University of Virginia studied the way a blood protein, called serum albumin, picks up and transports dexamethasone throughout the body. The team used powerful X-rays from the APS to get a full picture of the structure of serum albumin combined with dexamethasone. Their work was published in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography.

Low levels of albumin may already make it more difficult for some patients to get the benefits of dexamethasone. This research shows that patients with diabetes may experience the same difficulty, since high blood sugar changes the way albumin binds with dexamethasone. These findings, researchers say, may lead to physicians rethinking how they prescribe the drug for certain patients.

The X-ray macromolecular crystallography work was performed at Life Sciences Cooperative Access Team (LS-CAT) beamline 21-ID-F at the APS. The research team made use of remote access technology to control the APS beam without visiting the site.

«Gaining new insight into the mechanisms of this drug will help doctors design more effective treatments,» said Argonne’s Bob Fischetti, life sciences advisor to the APS director. «Since the start of this pandemic, the APS has been a powerful tool for gaining insights into the virus itself, and into methods for combating it.»

This research is the latest of many contributions the APS has made to the battle against COVID-19. Since January the APS has devoted more than 8,000 hours of experimental time across multiple X-ray beamlines to research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As of October 2020, more than 70 groups of researchers have used the APS to learn more about the virus, and lay the groundwork for treatments and vaccines.

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Read the University of Virginia press release.

The Advanced Photon Source is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory. Additional funding for beamlines used for COVID-19 research at the APS is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research. The APS operated for 10 percent more hours this year than usual to support COVID-19 research, with the additional time supported by the DOE Office of Science through the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, with funding provided by the Coronavirus CARES Act.

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC0206CH11357.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.

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