When I heard of scientists figuring out how to unboil an egg, my initial thought was “what good does unboiling an egg do?” As it turns out, the process that the researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and Flinders University in Australia developed has nothing to do with last minute culinary decisions. Their discovery could actually be the medical breakthrough of the decade, and has the ability to save billions of dollars in the global medical research and food production industries. More importantly, this new technique could advance cancer treatment by leaps and bounds.
What Unboiling Actually Means
When you boil an egg, you know that the whites of the egg go from a clear, gooey, mucus-like liquid to a white, rubbery solid. Nothing fancy there, right? What happens on a chemical level as you cook that egg is a different story. The proteins that make up the egg white unfold themselves and re-fold into tighter, more tangled configuration. This is why the egg whites and the yolk go from a liquid to a solid. The scientists at Flinders University have developed a device called a vortex fluidic device that can actually make the dense, tangled protein strands of a cooked egg unfold and return back to their original state.
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What This Means for Cancer Treatment
Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry, says that the biggest application for this technique of unfolding and refolding proteins is cancer treatment. There is a procedure that involves using man-made antibodies that attach themselves to the proteins in cancer cells. This process allows the immune system to then naturally destroy cancer cells. The problem is, the current process for making these antibodies, which are also proteins, is expensive and take a long time. The same technology that allows scientists to unboil an egg can make the production of these protein antibodies take minutes instead of days. Weiss says, “I can’t predict how much money it will save, but I can say this will save a ton of time, and time is money.” What is exciting to me, is the fact that this method makes the science of using the body’s natural cancer-fighting abilities much more powerful, as opposed to using treatments like chemo or radiation.