Oct 27, 2011Science and Technology
Mashups aren't just for dance parties; researchers combine 3D printing with augmented reality to understand binding between infectious agents and therapeutics

Traditionally, drugs were discovered by identifying active ingredients in known remedies or through serendipitous discovery, such as penicillin. Currently, drug discovery focuses on understanding the molecular and physiological aspects of infectious agents. Applying this knowledge can create therapeutics specifically targeted for a particular infectious agent. Despite increased understanding of the molecular and physiological components of infectious agents, drug discovery remains a lengthy, expensive and inefficient process.


A major limiting factor in drug discovery has been the lack of accurate models. The molecular graphics lab at Scripps takes a novel approach of combining 3D printing and augmented reality to finding drug targets. Three-dimensional printers create 3D models of infectious agents and potential therapeutic targets. Researchers then can use augmented reality programs to further model the amount of energy required for a drug to bind to its target. As this youtube video shows, the interaction between two molecules is dependent on the amount of energy required for interaction.


Clearly 3D printing is making us rethink what is truly possible. This technology manufactures fully functional replicas of user specified designs. From wrenches to organs, 3D printing is changing the way we think about manufacturing. The ability of this technology to create user specified 3D models makes it ideally suited for creating models of infectious agents and therapeutics. The ability to print up a pathogen and potential drug models allows researchers to see how the biomolecules will interact in three-dimensional space. This increases the understanding of how each potential drug would interact with the infectious agent.


Augmented reality is another big buzzword in the technology world. Augmented reality is the term used for computer-based modification of the environment. This differs from virtual reality, which does not modify reality, but rather replaces “reality” with a simulated environment. Popular media has vastly welcomed this technology with augmented reality based music apps, movies and video games. Beyond entertainment, there is clearly potential for this technology to further medical understanding. Applying augmented reality to 3D models allows for a more thorough investigation of the energetic requirements for the agent and potential treatment to bind. This understanding is essential for investigating which treatment would most efficiently interact with the agent in question.


Despite advances in technology, drug discovery is an expensive and lengthy process with a low rate of discovery of new therapeutics. Increased understanding of the energetic interaction requirements of a drug and potential treatment will enhance our knowledge of which treatments would potentially be most efficient. The combination of 3D printing and augmented reality by researchers at the Molecular Graphic Laboratory at Scripps is a novel approach to investigating the energetic requirements of binding between potential therapeutics and infectious agents. This can provide valuable insight into which potential target will bind most efficiently.

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