Thursday, December 05, 2013

Database Tracks Toxic Side Effects of Pharmaceuticals

Judging by the list of off side effects on most pharmaceutical TV commercials, one would guess the cure may often be as bad as the disease.

That's why researchers from North Carolina State University have published an update to an extensive toxicology database -- so that it can be used to track information about drugs and their unintentional toxic effects.

“Environmental science actually shares a common goal with drug makers: to improve the prediction of chemical toxicity,” says Dr. Allan Peter Davis, lead author of a paper on the work and the biocuration project manager of the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD) in NC State’s Department of Biological Sciences.

The scientific literature contains vast information about the adverse effects of therapeutic drugs. But collecting, organizing and making sense of that information is a daunting task. NC State’s CTD team, which historically focused on environmental chemicals, - read and coded more than 88,000 scientific papers as part of the update.

The results include more than 250,000 statements collected from seven decades’ worth of scientific articles. Putting the data into the CTD framework helps investigators develop and test hypotheses about how drugs might cause adverse events.

“Coding the information in a structured format was key,” insists Davis. “This allowed it to be combined with other data to make novel predictions.” For example, the drug bortezomib is used to treat certain types of cancer, but it also causes unintended nerve damage in some patients. By linking the data, CTD was able to connect the dots and find genes that that may be key to connecting the drug and the possibility of nerve damage.

“Investigators can now test and validate which genes might be critical to the drug-induced event,” explains Davis. “This could be useful in gene-testing patients to tailor the correct medicine or it could help design future therapeutics by alerting safety researchers to avoid those pathways and potential toxic outcomes.”

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