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St. Jude and Scripps Research Institute Scientists Help Launch Human Dark Proteome Initiative

Group to focus on advancing research on intrinsically disordered proteins to better understand catastrophic diseases

Memphis, Tennessee, November 9, 2015

Richard W. Kriwacki, PhD, and fellow researchers

From left: Richard W. Kriwacki, PhD; Peter Wright, PhD; Rohit V. Pappu, PhD; Jean Baum, PhD; and Jeffrey C. Hoch, PhD

Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and other institutions today announced the launch of the Human Dark Proteome Initiative (HDPI). The initiative aims to accelerate research into biology’s “invisible mass” to provide novel insights into cell function and a new frontier in drug discovery.

The term “dark proteome” describes the large portion of the proteome—the complete collection of proteins in an organism—that do not adopt defined 3D structures. These little-studied proteins make up about one third of the human proteome and control many aspects of cellular behavior. Recent developments in technology, including advances in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy methods, now make it possible to look in detail at these “intrinsically disordered proteins” (IDPs) and the “intrinsically disordered regions” (IDRs) of these molecules.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about the potential societal impacts of a broad-based research infrastructure for these understudied proteins,” said Richard Kriwacki, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Structural Biology and of the HDPI. “We also want to develop educational programs that will address the origins and potential cures of devastating diseases affected by these proteins that afflict large numbers of patients across the world.”

“IDPs are involved in heart disease, infectious disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Peter Wright, Ph.D., who is Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Investigator at TSRI and chair of the HDPI. “We need to advance our understanding of the functions and molecular mechanisms of these proteins so we can work toward better therapies for these debilitating diseases.”

Wright and Kriwacki emphasized that dramatically expanded investment in basic and translational research into the dark proteome is needed to achieve the full potential for understanding and developing cures for many devastating diseases.

Many of the members of the new Human Dark Proteome Initiative were in Memphis last week for the Intrinsically Disordered Proteins session at the Southeastern/Southwestern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society.   

Joining Kriwacki and Wright in spearheading the initiative are researchers from Columbia University (Arthur G. Palmer III), Rutgers University (Jean Baum), UConn Health (Jeffrey Hoch), University of California, San Francisco (Steven Finkbeiner) and Washington University in St. Louis (Rohit V. Pappu). 

Additional information about the Human Dark Proteome Initiative can found at

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.

The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 2,700 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see