At the last Young Scientist meeting, PhD students Gareth Ettridge and Polly Usher tackled the topic of drug screening and drug discovery. The session was based around explaining how new assays are developed to test high numbers of compounds in a relatively short period of time. The hope is that these techniques will find compounds capable of improving mitochondrial function. This is an active area of research here in the WCMR, with a number of different projects working together to contribute to this challenging area of mitochondrial medicine (see previous posts http://www.newcastle-mitochondria.com/screening-a-screen/ and http://www.newcastle-mitochondria.com/shedding-light-on-mitochondrial-redox/).
Throughout the session, the students discussed the two main types of screening; how they differ, and which is better. To assess this, the relative success rates and the mechanisms behind the screening methods were picked apart…using Nerf guns and Lego as teaching aids! The Nerf shooting gallery conveyed the random fast testing (blind-folded rapid fire) of phenotypic screening, and the slow but careful work of target-directed drug discovery (one single well-aimed shot). Using Lego, the students were encouraged to construct their own ‘target proteins’ and to make ‘drugs’ out of other Lego bricks to fill other team’s ‘active sites’. We also touched on what happens once an interesting compound has been identified, called lead optimisation, and how much work goes in to taking it from an exciting concept to an available treatment (clinical trial timeline).
Gareth and Polly said, “Drug discovery and screening can be quite complex and a technical subject to talk about, so we wanted to make the session as interactive as possible. This was to not only explain the concepts behind the science, but also make it an engaging experience for all involved.”