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Virtual discovery aids drug recycling

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Powerful computers and digital modeling could have a hand in pointing scientists to which existing drug compounds could be recycled or "repurposed" for new uses. And as Discover magazine writes, computational approaches are among the emerging methods of reducing the amount of chance that has often been associated with finding new uses for old drugs.

Take lithium, which was used to treat gout before it was accidentally found to have benefits for combating manic episodes. Now, given a set of computational tools, scientists are taking luck out of the equation. Discover notes that 3D modeling of disease targets such as misfit enzymes can shed light on the structure of a drug needed to block the activity of such bad actors. And as covered in these pages, researchers at Stanford University have developed a computer algorithm that searches public databases find drug-disease pairings.

The NIH has been backing such efforts. The agency has recently launched the Learning Collaborative, which is expected to streamline the process of developing repurposed drugs, starting with a rheumatoid arthritis drug for treating a rare form of leukemia. Patients with life-threatening diseases have raced to get their hands on existing meds that have shown promise in attacking their illnesses. For instance, there was huge demand for a skin cancer drug to combat Alzheimer's after the compound showed in mice that it could wipe out a plaque linked to the memory-stealing disease.

- get more in the Discover article

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