Senior researchers and medical students at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) recently published a paper focused on improving drug-screening platforms for vascular diseases.

The research team, led by Dr Isra Marei, Post-Doctoral Associate in Pharmacology, includes four members of the WCM-Q Class of 2024 – Tala Abu Samaan, Maryam Ali Al-Quradaghi, Asmaa A Farah and Shamin Hayat Mahmud – with Pharmacology Professor Chris Triggle and Associate Professor Hong Ding.

The study titled, 3D tissue-engineered vascular drug screening platforms: promise and considerations, was  published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine as an invited review for a special issue on regenerative medicine.

Improving drug-screening for vascular diseases

The paper focused on improving drug screening platforms for vascular diseases. Drug screening is an important step towards drug discovery; however, drugs pass through several screening and validation steps before they are approved for clinical use. This process takes at least 10 years between pre-clinical in vitro testing and clinical studies.

Despite many drugs showing great promise in the pre-clinical phase, only 10% of the drugs that enter phase 1 clinical trials are expected to advance to the point they receive approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The paper’s first author, Dr Marei, said that the high failure rate of many drugs in development could be attributed in part to the limitations of the currently used pre-clinical 2D models, which do not accurately reflect human physiological responses. Thus, there is a need to mimic the human physiological conditions in pre-clinical studies to improve drug screening platforms.

A novel approach is to use patients’ stem cells to develop 3D tissue-engineered constructs in vitro. Such platforms will also offer the potential for personalised drug testing to accommodate patients’ specific needs.

We feel there is a great deal of potential in this line of study for making drug screening more effective and this really captured the imagination of the students, who made excellent contributions to this work.

Personalisation using 3D systems might eventually provide a predictive and relatively cost-effective method to screen out unsuccessful drug developments and reduce the need for clinical trials. The paper discussed the promise of these systems, and the factors that should be considered to produce a successful 3D vessel that is both reliable and reproducible.

How it started

The background to the manuscript stems from an Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) grant  funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) with the title, Towards the Development of an Endothelial Progenitor Cell – Based Vascular Graft for Drug Screening and an Advanced Biomedical Sciences Research Requirement (ABSR) project awarded to Maryam Ali Al-Quradaghi.

Due to laboratory access restrictions in place in 2020, Dr Marei organised regular virtual meetings during the first phase of the UREP project and this resulted in the drafting of the manuscript that was finally submitted in late 2021. The significance of the work was also recognised and supported the by L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents Program Middle East, awarded to Dr Marei in 2020.

Dr Marei applauded the contribution of the students to the study, saying that each had put their ‘heart and soul’ into continuing the project in difficult circumstances, with much of the work being conducted on virtual platforms during lockdown.

In addition to publishing the paper, the team also presented the experimental aspect of their project during a conference hosted by the Nature group of scientific journals in November 2021.

Click here to read the paper in full.  

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