NIH puts cash behind national screening network

Related tags Molecule Protein

In the US, the National Institutes of Health has awarded $88.9
million in grants to nine institutions over three years to
establish a collaborative research network that will use high-tech
screening methods to identify small molecules that can be used as
research tools.

The Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network will be the world's largest collaborative network focused on drug discovery, according to the NIH, which said that data generated from the high-throughput assays conducted at the screening centres will be made available to researchers in both the public and private sectors through the PubChem database.

Each centre will have access to a library of 2 million compounds, which will be individually tested for medicinal properties using robotic screening instrumentation.

"This tremendous collaborative effort will accelerate our understanding of biology and disease mechanisms,"​ said Elias Zerhouni, Director of the NIH, in a statement. "More importantly, it will, for the first time, enable academic researchers to explore novel ideas and enable progress on a broad front against human disease."

For example, the broad-based screening effort will eventually enable researchers to explore the hundreds of thousands of proteins believed to be encoded by the approximately 25,000 genes in the human genome. To date, only a few hundred human proteins have been studied in detail using small molecule probes.

Small molecules can be valuable tools for understanding the many important cellular events involved in health and disease, which is key to identifying possible new targets for diagnosis, treatment and prevention. To date, most useful small molecules have been found serendipitously. The molecular libraries screening program is an effort by NIH to take an efficient, high-throughput approach toward the discovery of many more useful compounds.

The network is part of the NIH's 'New Pathways to Discovery' initiative, which has set out to advance the understanding of biological systems and build a better toolbox for medical researchers. It will be overseen by a project team made up of staff from NIH's 27 institutes and centres.

One of the centres in the scheme, the Burnham Institute in San Diego, said it plans to perform screens of the 2 million library compounds against at least 20 disease-targets per year, revealing specific compounds that interact with and inhibit disease-causing proteins.

Burnham's screening centre specialises in high-throughput automated microscopy, allowing for cell-based screens using high content imaging, as well as performing methods development in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)-based drug design, 3D computational modeling, and combinatorial chemistry.

The other centres in the network are: Columbia University Medical Centre, Emory University, Southern Research Institute, Scripps Research Institute, the University of New Mexico Albuquerque, Vanderbilt University, Pittsburgh University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Related topics Preclinical Research

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