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University of Alberta researcher unveils world's largest drug database

Interactive one-stop-shop offers detailed drug information for patients, researchers and health-care professionals

University of Alberta

Until the 1980s, most of our 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. Until now. Thanks to the work by University of Alberta researchers, this previously inaccessible drug information is now consolidated and 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, the world's largest and most complete resource on drugs and drug targets. DrugBank contains detailed chemical, pharmaceutical, medical and molecular biological information on more than 3000 drug targets and 4100 approved or experimental drugs products.

This one-stop-shop allows 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 more than 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.

As patients take more active roles in their own care, they can locate more detailed information without searching through scientific literature to find it. For example, if you search for "acetaminophen," on the site, you will find 197 brand names for products and 26 brand name mixtures that contain it. DrugBank will also tell you how acetaminophen works, its side effects, how it's absorbed, how it's metabolized and how to take it.

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. The diversity of the data types combined with the fact that the data were mostly paper-bound made the assembly of DrugBank both difficult and time-consuming. More than a dozen textbooks, several hundred journal articles, nearly 30 different electronic databases and at least 20 in-house or web-based programs were individually searched, accessed, compared, written or run over the course of four years.

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. 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," said Lori Querengesser, Genome Prairie Project manager.


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.

DrugBank website:

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