Why do antibiotics not always work and what does this have to do with preservatives? How can the large-molecule active ingredient of drugs get into the carefully protected cell? How much does artificial intelligence speed up the lengthy testing processes of drug development? The answers can be found in the works of three Hungarian researchers. They received the 20-year-old “L’Oréal – UNESCO For Women and Science” award for their outstanding research results.
This year, for the 20th time, the jury made up of academics awarded the “L’Oréal – UNESCO For Women and Science” award of HUF 6,000,000 to exceptionally talented female researchers. On the occasion of the anniversary, in addition to material and life sciences, the field of formal sciences appeared as a new category, thus increasing the number of 2022 awardees to three. With the prize, they want to achieve that as many talented and successful women as possible are known and recognized, thus helping their careers and research.
It often happens with hospital-acquired bacterial infections, but nowadays it is also increasingly common with everyday bacterial diseases that the antibiotic prescribed by the doctor does not work, namely because the bacteria causing the infection develop resistance. Dr. Réka Spohn biologist, employee of the ELKH Biological Research Center in Szeged, researches how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria can adapt very quickly to any environmental change, and antibiotic treatments are no exception. Réka is currently investigating the relationship between biocides and antibiotics, which occur mainly as preservatives in everyday life, in the development and transmission of resistance. According to assumptions, the biocides entering our bodies help bacteria to become resistant even to antibiotics. Réka’s goal is to use her research results to help develop preparations that cure bacterial infections faster and more effectively.
In the first stage of drug development, potential active ingredient molecules are subjected to a number of tests. In addition to the fact that the researchers examine whether these really have a healing effect on the functioning of the therapeutic target in our body, they also examine the possible side effects, how long it takes for them to break down, and how long it takes for them to be absorbed. This is an extremely time-consuming and expensive process. Many years can pass between the time that researchers consider an active substance molecule suitable for the treatment of a disease and the time that a drug is put on the market. Dr. Anita Bajusz-Rácz, as a scientific associate of the Natural Science Research Center, is able to use computer modeling to predict the drug safety properties of hundreds of thousands or even millions of active ingredient candidates in a short period of time, and thus exclude those that will definitely not be used during drug development. While the examination of a molecule under traditional laboratory conditions can take days, with Anita’s computational models based on artificial intelligence, results can be obtained within minutes. These new machine learning algorithms may be able to predict side effects and the main steps of interaction with the body, from taking a drug to its complete elimination from the body, and with their help, it can be determined whether the tested active ingredient is suitable for later use in treatment.
Mammalian cell membranes are like a wall with multiple doors, through which classical drug molecules (such as pain relievers, anesthetics) can easily pass, but the more recently developed large drug molecules cannot pass through. These active substances have already provided a solution for several incurable diseases (e.g. certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases) where the target is outside the cells. These molecules are not able to influence the processes inside the cell, because either they do not pass through the door or they break up during the passage process. Dr. Anastasia Hetényi, Szent-Györgyi Albert, associate professor of the Institute of Medical Chemistry of the University of Szeged, and his colleagues searched for a route and a method that takes large molecules through one of the doors into the cell’s internal safe system, so that they exert their effect there. The research group has developed a special carrier material that reads a sugar code at the entrance and delivers the active ingredient into the cell as a Trojan horse. Continuing the work, Anastázia and her colleagues want to test the developed method with biological active substances that can be used to identify and influence disease-causing processes within living cells.
In the past 20 years, 54 Hungarian researchers have received the scholarship, and the company has so far distributed more than 74 million forints among Hungarian female scientists. During the two decades, several of the awardees’ students also received the recognition, the “For Women and Science” award brought together female researchers and research groups, who later worked together on joint projects. The scholarship was one of the important milestones in the awardees’ careers, which was followed by many other domestic and international successes. The “L’Oréal–UNESCO Hungarian Scholarship for Women and Science” is unique in Hungarian public life: it is only for women, supports Hungarian female researchers, and applications can be made from anywhere in the country. The patron of the program is the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
A special podcast was launched for the 20th anniversary of the award, where students can get to know the 5 award winners and their stories from the past two decades.
Source: technokrata by www.technokrata.hu.
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