Structural parasitology is the study of the structures of proteins for interesting parasites. It applies the techniques of structural biology (such as X-ray crystallography or NMR) to determine the 3-D structures of protein molecules involved in a parasitic relationship. One goal is to distinguish the workings of functional pathways in these organisms in comparison to humans. More importantly, it is hoped that structures of parasite proteins will lead to faster discovery of drugs for diseases neglected by pharmaceutical companies.
This is a challenging field because parasite proteins are often more difficult to express using a heterologous system. The challenge is particularly great for proteins from eukaryotic parasites. Once expressed, many parasitic proteins are also resistant to crystallization because they contain inserts which are not commonly found in human or prokaryotic proteins.
Many academic labs around the world study structural parasitology. Two groups in particular have contributed many parasite structures: the SGPP (Structural Genomnics of Pathogenic Protozoa) and the SGC (Structural Genomics Consortium).