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“We’re designing new proteins to address 21st-century challenges,” says David Baker, Ph.D. He’s the director of the Institute for Protein Design at UW Medicine, and he’s one of the masterminds who founded this new field.

Proteins are like little folded puzzles. They regulate the body, everything from breathing to digestion. And when they’re not working correctly — when the folds fail — we fall ill. David and his colleagues posed the idea that computer-designed proteins, inserted into the body at the right place and time, could be used to remedy illnesses. At the Institute for Protein Design, researchers are working on treatments for cancer, flu and Ebola. In fact, one scientist is accelerating a protein-based solution that might help people with celiac disease.

What else can these little puzzles do? “They could help address energy and environmental challenges,” says Baker. “Their capacity to change the world is just beginning to be explored.”