A revolutionary new scientific method developed at the University of Leeds will improve the diversity of 'biologically active molecules', such as antibiotics and anti-cancer agents.
The researchers, who report their findings online today in the journal Nature Chemistry, took their inspiration from evolution in nature. The research may uncover new pharmaceutical drugs that traditional methods would never have found.
"Nature produces some amazing structures with really interesting biological activity, but the plant or animal did not design them. Instead the organisms gradually evolved both the chemical structures and the methods to produce them over millennia because they were of benefit. We wanted to capture the essence of this in our approach to discovering new drugs," said George Karageorgis, a PhD student from the School of Chemistry and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, and first author of the study.
The traditional method for discovering new drugs involves preparing new biologically active molecules by adjusting the chemical structure of an existing one slightly and analysing the results. This trial and error method is both time consuming and limits the variety of new types of drugs that are developed.
"There is a known problem with limited diversity in drug discovery. It's like a baker always going to the same storage cupboard and using the same ingredients, yet hoping to create something that tastes different," said Dr Stuart Warriner from the School of Chemistry and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, a co-author of the research paper.
"Our novel approach is like taking lots of different ingredients – including things you may never think will work together – and trying different combinations of these in each cup of a cupcake tray. If the result 'tastes' promising then we use this as the starting point for another set of experiments. Only at the end, when we have something really good, do we work out exactly what we have made."
In the study, the researchers investigated the reactions of 12 types of an organic molecule called a 'diazo' compound. The researchers chose to study reactions of diazo compounds as they have many possible outcomes, depending on the specific reaction conditions (such as the temperature and concentrations used) and the choice of the reaction catalyst.
Different types and quantities of the reaction 'ingredients' were added to each of the 96 wells of an experiment tray and the products of the reaction were then tested to see if they had the required biological effect.
"The key to our method is using very promiscuous reactions which can lead to many different interesting products. Normally, these are the sort of reactions that chemists would steer well clear of, but in this case it's actually an advantage and gives us the chance of finding some diverse and active structures," said Dr Warriner.
To assess the effectiveness of the reaction products as drugs, the researchers studied how well they could activate a particular biologically relevant protein called the 'androgen receptor', which is important in the progression of certain cancers.
The results informed two further rounds of experiments on the most promising candidates, from which the researchers eventually identified three biologically active molecules.
"It's very unlikely that anyone would have ever designed these molecules or thought to use these compound classes against this target, but we have reached that result very efficiently and rapidly using our methodology," said Karageorgis.
Professor Adam Nelson from the School of Chemistry and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, a co-author on the paper, concludes: "The beauty of our approach is that pharmaceutical companies could start using it tomorrow, as you don't need any specialist equipment. What we need to do now is to run further studies and add even more diversity to the potential products of our reactions to convince other scientists to adopt this new technique."
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) provided funding for the equipment used in this study. Karageorgis' PhD studies are supported by a University of Leeds scholarship.
George Karageorgis, Dr Stuart Warriner and Professor Adam Nelson are available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The research paper, 'Efficient Discovery of Bioactive Scaffolds by Activity-Directed Synthesis' (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nchem.2034), is published online by the journal Nature Chemistry on 24 August 2014.
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. http://www.leeds.ac.uk
Sarah Reed | Eurek Alert!
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy