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Drugs without side effects

Developing new medications is costly and complex. Gene expression analysis aids in the early detection of the toxicity and effectiveness of new medicines and paves the way for customized medical treatment where side effects will be cancelled out.

Pharmaceutical research is a long, tedious process. On average, it takes 12-15 years to develop a new product. The discovery of serious side effects quite often brings an end to any further research so that only a small percentage of drug candidates eventually make it onto the market. Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM employ gene and protein expression analysis to obtain an early estimation of the effects and toxicity of new pharmaceutical agents. Using these processes, researchers examine how a particular substance modifies gene activity, enabling them to draw conclusions about potential side effects. The researchers start by analyzing known toxic substances such as chloroform or agents that are known to cause liver, heart or kidney damages for instance. Cells cultured from various tissue samples are exposed to these substances. Afterwards the researchers check which genes in the cells have been expressed, i.e. produced corresponding proteins. Comparison with unexposed control cells shows how each substance modifies gene activity. Thus, their potential to trigger undesirable medical conditions is revealed. The resulting gene expression profiles are stored in a database. These data are the basis to evalute new substances. If a currently researched pharmaceutical agent shows a profile similar to a known drug in the database, we assume it will have the same side effects, explains Professor Jürgen Borlak, who heads the department for pharmaceutical research and medical biotechnology at ITEM. This allows us to eliminate unlikely drug candidates at an early stage of the development process, thus saving costs and improving drug safety. Gene expression analysis also brings us a step closer to the concept of customized medicine. Each individual reacts to medications in a specific way. Some can take pain-relief pills without any problem. Others experience digestive problems when taking the same medication. The reason quite often lies in slight differences in our genetic makeup which cause our bodies to process chemical substances differently. Researchers are now striving to identify personal drug metabolism patterns, to determine which substances are useful and which may be harmful in a certain manner. Using these data, medical treatment can in future be tailored to the patients specific gene profile.,Contact:,Susanne Steinmann,Phone +49 5 11 / 53 50-5 20,E-mail: Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM,Nikolai-Fuchs-Strasse 1,30625 Hannover, Germany,