03 March 2009 University of Strathclyde

A Nose for New Treatments

Project may sniff out solutions to biological puzzles

A massive range of drugs are tested for clinical trials each year but only one in 30 is ultimately used to treat patients.

This means that a great deal of time and money is expended in drug trials but the effort could be saved, and the drug development process made faster and cheaper, by a 'molecular nose' being pioneered in a joint venture between the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow.

Professor Graham and his team at the University of Strathclyde

Professor Graham and his team at the University of Strathclyde

The device is being designed to sniff out effective new medicines by testing the reaction to them of cells in the human body.

The nose - which is, in fact, a multiplexed sensor platform - is made up of more than 1,000 sensors. By determining how well a drug performs before it goes to clinical trial, and by identifying patterns in successful drugs, the nose can not only save millions of pounds and years of work but can also offer an insight into why some drugs do not work.

It is also an example of multidisciplinary research between chemistry and life sciences, to the overall benefit of medicine.

Professor Duncan Graham, co-investigator at Strathclyde, is helping to develop the nose by providing a solution to measuring the signature patterns through the use of nanotechnology developed at the University's laboratories. He said: "This is an excellent example of where the interaction between physical and life scientists has led to an ambitious project that will have significant implications for drug treatments."

Professor Walter Koch, lead researcher at the University of Glasgow , said: "With the molecular nose, you could take a number of drugs that have known side effects and establish the signature patterns for the side effects which can therefore be avoided."

Despite having an understanding of the parts of a cell, scientists do not know how the different parts communicate with each other when reacting to stimulation. This means scientists are often unaware of why some drugs are more efficient than others, which can result in time-consuming and costly trial and error practices.

By cutting out this process, the molecular nose could save the drugs industry millions of pounds and many years of development work. It will also reduce the requirement for animal experimentation as many drug effects can be predicted beforehand.

By applying external stimulation, such as heat, the sensors on the molecular nose will monitor 1,000 different responses from the components of the cell allowing researchers to follow the communication patterns of each cell.

This project is one of several examples of collaboration between the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. They also work together through WestCHEM, a joint research school which brings together the strengths of the two major chemistry research schools in the West of Scotland. This offers an outstanding research environment in a large, diverse and expanding chemistry research school.

Professor Graham, who is Deputy Director of WestCHEM, said: "This is a top quality environment in which to conduct world leading science and we are proud to be part of something we see as being a focus for chemical sciences research in the UK ."   

Chick Wilson, Regius Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow and Director of WestCHEM, said: "WestCHEM was created to facilitate large, ambitious research projects that will make a difference in the longer term and this is an ideal example of this in action."   

"WestCHEM is a top quality environment in which to conduct world leading science and we are proud to be part of something we see as being a focus for chemical sciences research in the UK ."

Professor Duncan Graham, Deputy Director, WestCHEM

Source: University of Strathclyde /...


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