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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News article] Understanding natural compounds when antibiotics no longer work — ScienceDaily

Understanding natural compounds when antibiotics no longer work — ScienceDaily.

Excerpts

Date:November 12, 2014
Source:ETH Zürich
Summary:Medicine is drifting towards a major problem. An increasing number of bacteria is no longer sensitive to known antibiotics. Doctors urgently need to find new ways of fighting these multi-resistant pathogens. To address the problem, pharmaceutical research is turning back to the source of most of our drugs: nature.

Although hundreds of thousands of known active agents are found in nature, exactly how most of them work is unclear. A team of researchers from ETH Zurich has now developed a computer-based method to predict the mechanism of action of these natural substances. The scientists hope this method will help them to generate new ideas for drug development. “Natural active agents are usually very large molecules that often can be synthesized only through very laborious processes,” says Gisbert Schneider, a professor of computer-aided drug design at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich. An understanding of the exact mechanism of action of a natural substance enables the design of smaller, less complex molecules that are easier to synthesize. Once a substance is chemically synthesized, it can be optimized for medical applications.

In order to understand the mechanism of action, researchers are studying which parts of a pathogen interact with the natural substance to inhibit its growth for example. In the past, this involved highly complex laboratory tests through which scientists usually identified only the strongest effect of a substance. However, this interaction alone is often unable to explain the entire effect of a natural substance. “Minor interactions with other target structures can contribute to the overall effect as well,” explains Schneider.

“By using the computer to break down the molecules, which can be quite large, into separate building blocks, we discover which parts might be essential for the mechanism of action,” says Schneider. Thus, it might be possible to design less complex molecules that chemists could synthesize instead of the laborious process of isolating them from the natural source.

Analysis of 210,000 natural substances

Using the computer-based method, the researchers led by Gisbert Schneider were able to predict a variety of potential target structures for 210,000 known natural substances.

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November 14, 2014 - Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , ,

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