Mimicking Evolution Key to Improving Drug Diversity
A revolutionary new scientific method developed at the Univ. of Leeds will improve the diversity of biologically active molecules, such as antibiotics and anti-cancer agents.
The researchers, who report their findings online in Nature Chemistry, took their inspiration from evolution in nature. The research may uncover new pharmaceutical drugs that traditional methods would never have found.
WikimediaUsing a new modeling approach, the researchers at the Univ. of York estimated the levels of 12 pharmaceutical compounds in rivers across the UK. They found that while most of the compounds were likely to cause only a low risk to aquatic life, ibuprofen might be having an adverse effect in nearly 50 percent of the stretches of river studied.
In what is believed to be the first study to establish the level of risk posed by ibuprofen at the country scale, the researchers examined 3,112 stretches of river that together receive inputs from 21 million people.
Pomegranate Drug May Stem Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
The onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed and some of its symptoms curbed by a natural compound that is found in pomegranate. Also, the painful inflammation that accompanies illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease could be reduced, according to the findings of a two-year project headed by Univ. of Huddersfield scientist Olumayokun Olajide, who specializes in the anti-inflammatory properties of natural products.
Now, a new phase of research can explore the development of drugs that will stem the development of dementias such as Alzheimer’s, which affects some 800,000 people in the UK, with 163,000 new cases a year being diagnosed. Globally, there are at least 44.4 million dementia sufferers, with the numbers expected to soar.
Laser Tweezers Reveal How Malaria Infects Blood Cells
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by a parasite that invades one red blood cell after another. Little is known about this infection process because it happens so quickly, potentially explaining why there is currently no approved malaria vaccine. In a study published by Cell Press August 19th in the Biophysical Journal, researchers used a tool called laser optical tweezers to study interactions between the disease-causing parasite and red blood cells. The findings reveal surprising new insights into malaria biology and pave the way for the development of more effective drugs or vaccines for a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Doctors and nurses fighting Ebola in West Africa are working 14-hour days, seven days a week, wearing head-to-toe gear in the heat of muddy clinics. Agonizing death is the norm for their patients. The hellish conditions aren’t the only problem: health workers struggle to convince patients they’re trying to help them, not hurt them.
Rumors are rife that Western aid workers are importing Ebola, stealing bodies or even deliberately infecting patients. Winning trust is made harder by a full suit of hood, goggles, mask and gown that hides their faces.
It’s an eye-catching angle in the story of an experimental treatment for Ebola: the drug comes from tobacco plants that were turned into living pharmaceutical factories.
Using plants this way — sometimes called “pharming” — can produce complex and valuable proteins for medicines. That approach, studied for about 20 years, hasn’t caught on widely in the pharmaceutical industry. But some companies and academic labs are pursuing it to create medicines and vaccines against such targets as HIV, cancer, the deadly Marburg virus and norovirus, known for causing outbreaks of stomach bug on cruise ships, as well as Ebola.
Jell-O-like Substance Attracts, Kills Cancer Cells
Chasing cancer cells with chemotherapy drugs can save lives, but there’s no guarantee that the treatment will kill every run-away cancer cell in the body.
What if, instead of hunting those metastatic cells, a treatment could lure them out of hiding — every last one of them — and eliminate them in one swift blow? Yong Wang, associate professor of bioengineering at Penn State, has created such a therapy — a tissue-like biomaterial that attracts cancer cells, like bits of metal to a magnet, and entraps them.
The World Health Organization declared it’s ethical to use untested drugs and vaccines in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa although the tiny supply of one experimental treatment has been depleted and it could be many months until more is available.
The last of the drug is on its way to Liberia for two stricken doctors, according to a U.K.-based public relations firm representing Liberia. The U.S. company that makes it said the supply is now “exhausted.”
'Dimmer Switch' Possible Key to Tackling Schizophrenia
Discovery of a new mechanism of drug action could lead to the next generation of drugs to treat schizophrenia. Affecting one percent of the world’s population, schizophrenia is a major health condition. It affects a person’s ability to think, feel and act and is associated with distressing symptoms including hallucinations and delusions.
A Monash Univ. study’s findings, published in Nature Chemical Biology, offer hope of a new class of drug that can act as a “dimmer switch” to control schizophrenia, without causing some of the common side effects associated with current anti-psychotic medicines.
Bee, snake or scorpion venom could form the basis of a new generation of cancer-fighting drugs, scientists say. They have devised a method for targeting venom proteins specifically to malignant cells while sparing healthy ones, which reduces or eliminates side effects that the toxins would otherwise cause.
The report was part of the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory,” says Dipanjan Pan, from the Univ. of Illinois, who led the study. “These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue.”
Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have obtained the first three-dimensional snapshots of the “assembly line” within microorganisms that naturally produces antibiotics and other drugs.
Understanding the complete structure and movement within the molecular factory gives investigators a solid blueprint for redesigning the microbial assembly line to produce novel drugs of high medicinal value.
There is new hope for people suffering from depression. Researchers have identified a compound, hydroxynorketamine (HNK), which may treat symptoms of depression just as effectively and rapidly as ketamine, without the unwanted side effects associated with the psychoactive drug, according to a study in the July issue of Anesthesiology, the official medical journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). Interestingly, use of HNK may also serve as a future therapeutic approach for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the authors note.
Discoveries Could Help Neutralize Chemical Weapons
Researchers at The Univ. of Tennessee are a step closer to creating a prophylactic drug that would neutralize the deadly effects of the chemical weapons used in Syria and elsewhere.
Jeremy Smith, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair and an expert in computational biology, is part of the team that is trying to engineer enzymes — called bioscavengers — so they work more efficiently against chemical weapons. The work is a joint effort between scientists at UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and a French national laboratory in Grenoble. Their study was published recently in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.
Gauging Illicit Drug Use in Real-time Can Aid Police
The war on drugs could get a boost with a new method that analyzes sewage to track levels of illicit drug use in local communities in real-time. The new study, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S., was published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology and could help law enforcement identify new drug hot spots and monitor whether anti-drug measures are working.
Kurunthachalam Kannan and Bikram Subedi note that to date, most methods to estimate drug use in the U.S. are based on surveys, crime statistics and drug seizures by law enforcement. But much illegal drug use happens off the radar. To better approximate usage, scientists have been turning to wastewater. Like a lot of other compounds from pharmaceuticals and personal care products to pesticides, illegal drugs and their metabolic byproducts also persist in sewage.
Scientists at EPFL have invented a molecule that can easily and quickly show how much drug is in a patient’s system. The molecule, now the basis of a start-up company, is expected to enable point-of-care therapeutic drug monitoring.
Monitoring the drug concentration in patients is critical for effective treatment, especially in cases of cancer, heart disease, epilepsy and immunosuppression after organ transplants. However, current methods are expensive, time-consuming, and require dedicated personnel and infrastructure away from the patient. Publishing in Nature Chemical Biology, scientists at EPFL introduce novel light-emitting sensor proteins that can quickly and simply show how much drug is in a patient’s bloodstream by changing the color of their light. The method is so simple that it could be used by patients themselves.