The ASMENA Project: an Introduction
The ASMENA project aims to create new tools and techniques for drug development and screening. Today, more than 50% of all drug targets are membrane proteins. The more that is known about membrane proteins, the easier it is to find out what effects certain substances may have in the body. If subtances lacking the desired effects on the target proteins or having a harmful effect can be sorted out at an earlier stage, this considerably shortens the drug development process. In addition, this means less need for animal testing, and that there is likely less risk of harm to the lab animals as a result of the tests made. Once the substances have been developed into finished pharmaceutical drugs, the clinical trials (where drugs are tested on humans) will involve less risk, and the end result wil be safer and more efficient pharmaceutical drugs.
Current drug screening assays rely to a large extent on fluorescent recording. This means that the lead substances tested are "labeled" with a fluorescent compound in order for researchers to be able to check the effect of that substance (i.e., Does it bind to the target protein? What effect does it have on the target protein and/or the cell?). However, labels are an unnatural attachment or component to the molecule to be investigated and may affect its biochemical behaviour. In the worst case this leads to false readouts. Of the few existing label free test methods available, all suffer from low throughput and, in certain cases, low information content. Thus, there is a strong desire to transfer from fluorescent recording into high throughput, label-free formats with great information content. There is also a high demand to measure functions of membrane proteins which are highly diverse.
The ASMENA project aims to develop the knowledge and methods needed to build label-free formats for membrane protein drug screening assays. By downscaling assays, costs can be reduced by reducing reagent and substance use, and also by allowing earlier detection of potential drug hits or toxicity effects. Combining several such assays on a chip will create a versatile platform where a great number of events can be measured at the same time at different spots on the chip, enabling functional screening of drug interactions with membranes and several classes of membrane proteins which are potential drug targets.
Read more about the drug development process here.
Read more about membrane proteins here.
In German: A general introduction to the ASMENA project can be found in this article.