Scientists at the University of Toronto and the RIKEN Center in Japan have developed a new approach to help with drug discovery. Rather than requiring human cells, the technique is based on baker’s yeast, which is well-understood at a molecular level.
Discovering how drugs work in the body can be very complex. Similarly, it can be very difficult to find new compounds that can act as drugs for specific diseases. Normally, scientists will have a drug target in mind – such as a specific protein – and will screen thousands of molecules in compound libraries to try to find some that interact with their target. This is time-consuming and often unproductive.
“There are many different types of libraries to choose from. A lot of the time you choose a library based on its availability or its cost, not any sort of functional information, and so it becomes a shot in the dark,” explains Dr. Jeff Piotrowski, a researcher involved in the study which was recently published in Nature Chemical Biology.
Dr. Jeff Piotrowski and his colleagues developed a chemical genetics platform that screens compounds in yeast cells, which share many similarities with human cells but are much better understood. The researchers could determine which bioprocesses in the cell were affected by the compounds, helping to narrow down the library. For example, to find a drug that might be effective in killing cancer cells, you might want to focus on molecules that have effects on cell growth and division.
“By annotating these libraries, we can tell which library targets which bioprocess in the cell. It gives us a head start on linking a compound to a target, which is perhaps the most challenging part of drug discovery,” says Piotrowski. The technique could help researchers to significantly streamline drug discovery in the future.
Image: Yeast cells labeled with colourful fluorescent markers (photo credit: Wiki Commons)
Study in Nature Chemical Biology: Functional annotation of chemical libraries across diverse biological processes…