New Trinity College Dublin centre seeks to unlock new bioactives for next-gen nutraceuticals

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The new Trinity Centre for Natural Products Research or NatPro will be based at the University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and will look to partner with industries in order to discover these products.

“The tide is rising in the Natural Product sectors globally and in Ireland,”​ says Professor Helen Sheridan, NatPro Founder and Academic Director at Trinity College.

“We at NatPro are excited to use a creative scientific lens to lead the pursuit of innovation in this sector.

“Interdisciplinarity is the key to our strategy and success. NatPro harnesses the power of academic rigor to drive natural product-based science from discovery through to a breath of applications.”

Algal regulatory genes

One recent key project involving NatPro personnel was the Marie Curie Career-Fit PLUS project, as part of the Horizon 2020 and EU research framework programme.

The research looked to characterise algal regulatory genes, to stop and start lipid biosynthesis for example, that could form a basis for pharmaceuticals and human nutraceuticals.

This research also took advantage of an unprecedented visualisation of lipid droplet change and current state of the art of proteomics and metabolomics to answer questions at the leading edge of algal biology.

With a little help from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, NatPro also became involved with the EU EIT Climate-KIC project known as Brewers Spent Grain (BSG 2.0).

Here NatPro researchers took a look at plant-based meat and dairy alternatives as a more sustainable source of proteins, using BSG, a by-product of the brewing industry, as the project’s starting material.

Along with a host of international universities and industries, NatPro carried out analysis of unfermented and fermented BSG, yoghurt and soya drink samples to define their chemical fingerprints using metabolomic techniques.

‘We strive for Ireland to lead at the forefront of innovation in the global natural products ecosystem, advancing its natural resources, key expertise and commercial opportunities,” ​adds Dr Gaia Scalabrino, NatPro’s Executive Director.

Cutting edge platforms

“NatPro’s edge is its interdisciplinary technology platforms, which promote a gateway for synergistic partnerships across industry and academia. 

“We operate an integrated approach at the interface between discovery science, product development and regulations.  Our drive is to create innovative products and provide strategic, scientific advice to our partners.

“Our team discovers value-added use of natural resources to deliver evidence-based solutions, which are derived from nature and translated into disruptive and sustainable practices.”

NatPro’s introduction coincides with a recent publication​ that hails the promise of Natural Products (NP) that can be directly developed or used as starting points for optimisation into novel drugs.

Writing in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, the paper, which features input by the International Natural Product Sciences Taskforce, identifies a number of novel NPs derived from bacterial strains that have novel antibiotic action.

Such strategies to discover novel NPs would also include those that exploit the human microbiome.

‘An emerging opportunity’

“Since gut microbiota are considered to play a major role in health and disease, and NPs are known to affect the gut microbiome composition, this area is an emerging opportunity for NP-based drug discovery,”​ the paper’s authors write.

“However, drug discovery efforts in this area are still in their infancy, with many open questions remaining.

“A future direction may be the characterization of single microbiota-derived species for particular therapeutic applications, and the advances in culturing strategies, genome mining and analytics discussed above will be of great importance in this respect.”

Commenting on the NatPro’s launch, Professor Anne Marie Healy, Professor of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology at Trinity College and NatPro Co-Director said, “The opportunities provided by the NatPro Centre to progress natural product research from discovery and analysis of new chemical entities through to formulation, processing and manufacture is very exciting, and really unique in the Irish research landscape.”

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