NIH starts "Roadmap" to study small molecules

Around the American Cancer Society we talk alot about screening – cancer screening. The ACS believes that early detection exams and tests can help save lives and reduce suffering from many cancers. The ACS also supports the idea of advancing innovative, high-impact research, and thus the following story is of interest.

The news today is about a type of screening that the National Intitutes of Health just funded this week, and also very important in preventing disease.

According to an NIH press statement, it is awarding $88.9 million in grants to nine institutions over three years to establish a collaborative research network that will use high-tech screening methods to identify small molecules that can be used as research tools. Small molecules have great potential to help scientists in their efforts to learn more about key biological processes involved in human health and disease.

"This tremendous collaborative effort will accelerate our understanding of biology and disease mechanisms," says Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH Director, in the statement. "More importantly, it will, for the first time, enable academic researchers to explore novel ideas and enable progress on a broad front against human disease."

Called “Roadmap” Grants," the broad-based screening effort will eventually enable researchers to explore the hundreds of thousands of proteins believed to be encoded by the approximately 25,000 genes in the human genome. At this time only a few hundred human proteins have been studied in detail using small molecule probes.

And, states the NIH, the Roadmap’s "New Pathways to Discovery" initiative has set out to advance the understanding of biological systems and build a better "toolbox" for medical researchers in the 21st century.

"This collaborative screening effort will enable academic and government researchers to contribute in a much more vigorous way to an understanding of the mechanisms of disease, and even to the identification of potential targets for new therapies. Central to this effort are the databases supporting the network, which will allow us to tie together data from diverse fields of science in ways not previously brought to bear on important health problems," says Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

You can find more information about this at the NIH web site.

This is exciting news in support of medical innovation! The future is looking bright for discovery and what these advances will bring.