Jeffrey Mumm of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said, "This screening technique could be applied to other than the human imagination. Our method was an adaptation of high throughput screening (HTS), an automated system developed in the 1980s that uses robotic equipment to 'dose' cell or tissue samples with candidate drugs in wells of lab dishes known as microtiter plates."
For the study, the research team bred zebra fish in which pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin glowed yellow, and other pancreatic cells not responsible for producing insulin glowed red. They placed the zebra fish embryos from the modified fish in microtiter plate wells and tested thousands of compounds from a Johns Hopkins library of drugs, most of which were already approved for human use. After evaluating more than 500,000 zebra fish embryos, the research team, identified 24 compounds that effectively increased beta cell number in these animals.
The authors said, "If these newly identified drug candidates have the same effect in other lab models and, eventually, humans, they might someday be used directly to increase beta cell numbers in people who take them or for more effectively growing beta cells in the lab for transplant. This new technique could be used to speed drug discovery for a variety of other medical conditions, from heart disease to neurodegenerative conditions to birth defects."
The study was published in the eLife.