Ion channels are increasingly being implicated in disease. Although existing drugs that modulate channel function currently represent a key class of pharmaceutical agents, future ion channel drugs could help to treat an even wider variety of diseases. Despite their disease relevance, ion channels remain largely under exploited as drug targets, chiefly resulting from the absence of screening technologies that provide the throughput and quality of data required to support medicinal chemistry. Although some technical challenges still lie ahead, this historic bottleneck in drug discovery is now being bypassed by newer technologies that can be fully integrated into the early stages of drug discovery and will allow the discovery of novel therapeutic agents. Sequencing the human genome has greatly added to the number of potential drug targets but selecting suitable ion channels for drug discovery research should be based on the potential therapeutic relevance of the channel and not just the availability of suitable screens. Currently, ion channel drug discovery is focused on the need to identify compounds that can provide tractable starting points for medicinal chemistry. Advances in laboratory automation have brought significant opportunities to increase screening throughput for ion channel assays but careful assay configuration to model drug-target interactions in a physiological manner remains an essential consideration. Ion channel screening platforms are described in this review to provide some insight into the variety of technologies available for screening, together with some of their inherent advantages and limitations.
Keywords: Ion channels, drug discovery, medicinal chemistry, high-throughput screening, ion flux assays, fluorescent dyes, electrophysiology
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