Tassos Perrakis is a research scientist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI), working on understanding protein structure and how it affects function. He tries to understand how the chemistry of a cell is changed to lead to disease.
What was your pitch about?
‘Proteins, what they are and why it’s important to understand how they work before you target them by drugs. If you don’t, you can hardly evaluate if a certain protein is a good target for drug. It’s part of the knowledge you should accumulate. Is it essential for a cell? What’s the mechanism, how does it feed on the environment of a cell? The central dogma in biology is that DNA makes RNA, which makes proteins. But DNA needs proteins to make RNA. It’s a catch-22. DNA is imagining a computer with just a hard disk.’
Why have you stayed at NKI for 23 years?
‘First by coincedence for a postdoc. Then I left for the European Molecular Biology Institute, but I was missing it and people asked me to go back. I like the combination of doing fundamental research, collaborating with the clinic, too see what is important in cancer and how it develops. It’s motivating for me. I could be in a chemistry department, but the input you get at NKI is different.’
What’s the most exciting thing you found in the last year?
‘I think our breakthrough was using protein structures that are predicted by AlphaFold and improve upon them. It was quite exciting building AlphaFill to make the predictions better.’