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Researcher Unveils World's Largest Drug Database

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Until the 1980s, most of knowledge about drugs and drug targets could fit into a few encyclopedic books.

But with the recent explosion in biological and chemical knowledge, that information is now scattered over thousands of textbooks, subscription databases and print journals.

University of Alberta researchers have consolidated this previously inaccessible drug information, available freely online.

Dr. David Wishart, from the departments of Computing Science and Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, first began working on an online, interactive database as a teaching tool to help his pharmacy students learn more about the molecular details of different drugs.

Wanting to develop one source that offers a broad scope of information, Wishart and his team created DrugBank.

DrugBank contains detailed chemical, pharmaceutical, medical and molecular biological information on 3000 drug targets and 4100 approved or experimental drugs products.

This is designed to allow pharmacists, physicians, drug researchers and the general public to find out just about everything they need to know about a drug or a drug target.

"There is no other resource quite like it," says Wishart. "With DrugBank you’re never more than a mouse-click away from finding an answer-whether you’re a patient, a pharmacist, a doctor or a scientist."

DrugBank provides 80 data fields for each drug including brand names, chemical structures, protein and DNA sequences, links to relevant Internet sites, prescription information and detailed patient information.

For biologists and chemists, DrugBank supports a wide range of sophisticated searches and queries. Combined with DrugBank’s visualization software, these tools allow scientists to easily search for new drug targets, to compare drug structures, to study drug mechanisms and to discover new drug leads.

"DrugBank is the first database we’re aware of that brings the latest data from the Human Genome Project together with detailed chemical information about drugs and drug products," said Wishart.

DrugBank is also playing an important role in another scientific endeavor-The Human Metabolome Project.

As lead researcher on this Genome Canada effort, Wishart’s goal is to guide the first group in the world to complete the human metabolome. That aim includes a database of all the metabolites in body fluids, such as urine and serum.

In addition to the usual chemicals that the body makes (metabolites) many prescription drugs (xenobiotics) are also found in these body fluids.

"Drugs are molecules that appear in the serum and blood, but are not normal. We needed to be able to show what is not ‘normal’ in order to help uncover what is ‘normal’," said Lori Querengesser, Genome Prairie Project manager.

"Since we needed to acquire all of this information for our project, we wanted to share this with the rest of the world as well."

The research is published in the Jan. 1, 2006 edition of the journal Nucleic Acids Research and has been supported by Genome Alberta, through the Genome Canada project: Building the Metabolomics Toolbox.