In the journey to discover novel and efficient medications for diverse diseases, scientists and researchers have redirected their focus toward the expansive repository of natural compounds present in plants, animals, and microorganisms. The process of screening these natural compounds for their potential pharmaceutical properties has led to the discovery of some of the most groundbreaking drugs in modern medicine. This blog post will explore the fascinating world of natural compound screening for pharmaceutical applications.
The Rich Diversity of Natural Compounds
Nature is a treasure trove of chemical diversity. Plants, marine organisms, fungi, and even some bacteria produce many molecules as defense mechanisms, communication signals, and more. These compounds have evolved over millions of years to interact with biological systems, making them attractive candidates for drug discovery.
The Screening Process
The journey begins with the collection of samples from various sources. This could involve gathering plant leaves, marine sponges, or microbial cultures. Once collected, the next step is to extract the target compounds from these sources using various methods such as solvent extraction, steam distillation, or fermentation. The extracted mixture may contain numerous compounds, so scientists must isolate and purify the specific compound of interest. This is often done using techniques like chromatography, which separates the mixture into its components based on their chemical properties.
Once the compound is isolated, it is time to assess its potential pharmaceutical properties. This involves subjecting the compound to a battery of biological assays to determine its effects on living cells or organisms. These assays could include tests for anti-inflammatory activity, antimicrobial properties, or even anticancer potential.
With advancements in automation and robotics, high-throughput screening has become a crucial tool in natural compound screening. This approach allows researchers to rapidly test thousands of compounds against various biological targets, significantly accelerating drug discovery. Understanding the relationship between a compound’s chemical structure and biological activity is essential. Researchers modify the compound’s structure slightly and observe how these changes affect its activity. This iterative process helps in optimizing the compound’s properties. Numerous well-known drugs have been derived from natural compounds. For instance, the widely used anticancer drug Paclitaxel comes from the Pacific yew tree, while the pain-relieving morphine is derived from the opium poppy. Artemisinin, a natural compound from sweet wormwood, revolutionized malaria treatment.
Challenges and Future Directions
While screening natural compounds holds immense promise, it is with challenges. Some natural compounds might have limited availability due to issues like overharvesting, while others may be difficult to synthesize on a large scale. Additionally, not all compounds from nature exhibit desirable pharmaceutical properties, necessitating rigorous screening and testing.
Technological advancements , such as lab automation, in metabolomics and genomics, aided in identifying novel compounds with potential pharmaceutical applications. Moreover, researchers focus on sustainable sourcing methods of natural compounds to avoid environmental concerns. Besides, novel technologies for screening natural compounds are a good direction. For example, Ion channels are specialized proteins found on the surface of cells, responsible for controlling various physiological processes, including nerve signaling, muscle contraction, and maintaining cell membrane potential in health and diseases. Screening natural compounds for targeting these channels is a dynamic and inspiring field of research. The journey from collecting samples from the wild to developing life-changing drugs involves a careful blend of scientific expertise, innovative technologies such as ion channel reader (ICR technology), and a deep appreciation for the complexity of nature. At Aurora Biomed, we continue to improve our ion channel reader technology to be a helpful platform for screening natural compounds.