Scientists taking inspiration from nature for new drug discoverySeptember 3rd, 2008 - 5:01 pm ICT by ANI
Washington, September 3 (ANI): Scientists are increasingly drawing inspiration from nature to produce drugs and organic products these days, say experts.
This fact emerged at a conference that was recently organised by the European Science Foundaton (ESF) and the European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST) near Naples in Italy.
Those who attended the conference were told that scientists had realised that the precise molecular arrangements within natural pathways in organisms have been highly tuned for specific processes and provide both compounds that could be exploited directly and vital information over how to synthesise new products by mimicking biochemical processes.
“We found that natural products provide invaluable leads for drug discovery and opportunities to explore chemical and biological pathways, both of which are essential to advancing the life sciences,” said the conference chair K.C. Nicolaou from the Scripps Research Institute in the US.
The conference also saw discussions on some of the products that were ready for pre-clinical development, having shown great potential for treating a range of infectious and metabolic diseases as well as cancers.
Maurizio Botta from the University of Sienna in Italy discussed the design, synthesis and biological evaluation of new compounds for tackling AIDS and HIV by inhibiting reverse transcriptase, the process by which this type of retrovirus virus hijacks the host cell’’s genetic machinery to replicate itself.
Dionisios Vourloumis, research director at the state run Greek research centre NCSR Demokritos, discussed how bacteria could be disabled by targeting the RNA binding molecules needed for their genes to be expressed.
It is important to distinguish between the highly specific compounds being developed by researchers in natural products, and existing herbal remedies that often have dubious therapeutic value.
“The difference from herbal medicine is that chemists are talking about pure active ingredients, precisely defined at the molecular level, as opposed to crude, multi-component mixtures of compounds contained in herbal medicines,” said Nicolaou.
While the main focus of the natural products field is on drug discovery and exploitation of biological pathways to treat disease, Nicolaou says that the synthetic processes involved also have great potential for developing novel products for a variety of industrial applications, particularly in the chemical industry.
One active area of research lies in harnessing the reaction centres of photosynthesis to produce clean sustainable energy converted from the sun without using fossil fuels just like plants do, something that may either be done by engineering new types of plant or photosynthesising cyanobacteria or mimicking these processes to synthesise artificial systems that perhaps are more convenient to deploy.
Nicolaou says that the synthetic strategies developed to synthesize natural products also have great potential for green chemistry, involving manufacture of compounds for different applications using sustainable techniques that reduce or eliminate toxic by-products, for example in the paper manufacturing industry.
The overall focus was in harnessing the tools of chemistry to develop new techniques for synthesising organic compounds for a variety of purposes, with improved efficiency and sustainability. (ANI)