Nanotechnology process enables fast discovery of ion channel-targeting drugs

Angela Belcher, David Clapham and Davide Marini

Embedded in the membranes of all living cells, ion channels are specialized, transistor-like proteins that transmit electrical signals necessary for a beating heart and a thinking brain. They play a role in a wide range of diseases that include inflammatory, cardiac, and neurological disorders. Despite being widely recognized as promising drug targets, there is no fast and reliable way to identify compounds that act on these proteins. Consequently, only five of the 500 ion channels encoded by the human genome are targeted by available drugs. Despite the small number of targets, these drugs account for $12 billion in annual sales.

This project proposes a nanotechnology-based approach to monitor the activity of ion channels. Unlike existing technologies, it will afford high efficiency as well as high data quality. It will thus make possible a systematic and commercially viable search for drugs targeting ion channels, dramatically accelerating availability of new therapies.