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Linde Schoenmaker – A more efficient search for cancer drugs

During her bachelor’s research project, Linde Schoenmaker was committed to making the search for suitable cancer drugs more efficient. She didn't do this in the lab, but with the computer. ‘This method is relatively inexpensive and suitable for selecting the right tools that scientists can further test in the lab.’

Drug discovery and safety

Schoenmaker opted for the bachelor’s Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences to study the different aspects of drug research. ‘I found everything about Drug Discovery and Safety particularly interesting, with applications in the early stages of drug development.’ For her master's in Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences she is now researching the generation of new usable molecular structures with the help of artificial intelligence. After her master's degree, Schoenmaker wants to develop further within the academic world.

Searching for molecules

During her bachelor's degree, Schoenmaker also searched for suitable medicines with the computer, specifically for cancer. To inhibit a process such as cancer growth, scientists often look for drugs that inhibit cell growth. ‘However, research has shown that cancer treatments are important in combating multiple cancer-specific processes at the same time,’ Schoenmaker explains. ‘This can be done by giving a patient a combination of drugs, but it may be safer and more effective to use one substance that affects multiple processes simultaneously.’

‘By using 3D computer models, we can make the search for cancer drugs more efficient.’

‘In the lab we can measure how well a substance binds, but this is expensive and time-consuming. That is why you would ideally want to select in advance which molecules are the most promising.’ Schoenmaker therefore used calculations and computer models to search for molecules that could bind to two receptors (proteins in the membrane of a cell) that play a role in cancer. Schoenmaker: ‘Because the structure of these receptors is unknown, I made a 3D model for both based on existing receptor structures. I then screened a large virtual library with the help of my models, in search of new molecules that could fit on both receptors. This resulted in a total of nine hits.’

Cheap selection

‘It is very useful to further refine these types of methods because they can make drug development more efficient,’ says Schoenmaker. ‘These types of computer methods are relatively inexpensive, and offer the possibility to select the most promising substances for testing in the lab. Although my research focused on only two receptors, it effectively indicates the applicability of these types of methods.’

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