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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2006

Lars Sundstrom, Capsant Neurotechnologies LTD, UK

l_sundstrom

Lars Sundstrom

Biography

Lars Sundstrom is Chief Scientific Officer and a founder of Capsant Neurotechnologies LTD. Capsant specialises in 3-dimensional tissue culture models of neurological disease with a specific emphasis on restoring function to damaged nerve tissue.

Prof. Sundstrom and his colleagues have been developing complex in-vitro models of brain tissue damage based on cultured brain slices maintained on an air liquid interface. Most recently his group has been using tissue engineering principles to regenerate embryonic and early postnatal tissues in-vitro for drug testing.

Prof. Sundstrom has a degree in biochemistry and a PhD from Oxford University and has held research positions at the University of Geneva and Bordeaux. He currently also has an academic affiliation as Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Southampton in the UK.

Abstract

Drug discovery: Thinking inside the box

Drug discovery has undergone a revolution in the last two decades. Sequencing of the human genome has led to the theoretical ability to define all drug targets in human beings. Combinatorial chemistry and high throughput screening methods have given us an unprecedented ability to generate and test new molecules against these targets. Despite these advances, and huge increases in research expenditure, there are fewer new drugs reaching patients today than there were 10 years ago. While it is thus theoretically possible to define all the pieces which make up human beings, so far the task of understanding how these fit together in time and space, and how we will use this information to make better drugs, remains undiminished.

Traditionally, most drugs have been discovered by observing effects these have on whole organisms and then backtracking to discover the targets these act upon. In many cases individual targets for drugs may not even exist as many drugs will act on multiple targets. This tried and tested black box method for discovering new drugs has recently been reincarnated and termed 'Chemical Genomics'. This refers to the use of chemical or biological probes to disrupt function in organisms or tissues and then backtracking to molecular targets after the desired phenotypic effects have been observed. The question now is what is the best black box to use?

There have been several attempts to use invertebrates including nematodes, fruit flies and zebrafish. There may, however, be difficulties in extrapolating these data to man. A recent and exciting new development comes from re-engineering mammalian tissues in-vitro using stem cells or primary embryonic tissues which can now be generated in formats that will allow us to re-engineer 'organotypic' humanised tissues. These new systems will become the experimental 'animals' of the 21st century.