A Partnership of The Scripps Research Institute and Vanderbilt University

The chemical sciences provide the foundation for contemporary understanding of human physiology, pharmacology, and drug discovery. Substantial progress has been made in recent years in characterizing the inventory of small molecule metabolites, developing chemical probes to interrogate biological function, and establishing high-throughput methods to identify compounds that have potential therapeutic benefit. Yet there remains a gulf between academic research in chemistry and the clinical sciences, due largely to differences in culture and training between these two disciplines. As the chemical sciences become increasingly relevant to biomedicine and as the biomedical sciences become increasingly focused on the properties of molecules, the time is right for a new initiative that seeks to accelerate the understanding of human chemistry in health and disease. The goal of this initiative is to impact the practice of medicine by providing a chemistry-focused view of the human metabolic state and of the effects of therapeutic intervention.

A uniquely collaborative Human Chemical Sciences Institute is proposed, which will be a partnership of The Scripps Research Institute and Vanderbilt University. The partnership will encompass research and training activities at the California and Florida campuses of Scripps Research, the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology (VICB), and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM). Scripps Research is recognized as a leader in synthetic and bioorganic chemistry, VUSM is regarded as being at the forefront of genomics, bioinformatics, and medical systems innovation, and both Scripps Research and VICB have an international reputation for excellence in chemical biology.

The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will be home to a broad range of collaborative activities pertaining to translational research at the interface of chemistry and medicine. Special emphasis will be devoted to the areas of metabolomics, drug discovery, and personalized medicine.

  • Metabolomics concerns the suite of small molecule metabolites that are present in various organs and fluid compartments of the body. The opportunity exists to go beyond taking inventory of these metabolites and provide quantitative, time-dependent analysis of their precise location and concentration within the context of the whole organism. This approach will broaden pharmacokinetics studies to include endogenous as well as exogenous compounds, and will pave the way for the discovery of novel biomarkers that impact clinical diagnostics and the monitoring of therapeutic intervention.
  • Drug discovery includes not just the search for potential drug candidates, but also the development of molecular probes that can be used to interrogate biological function. Scripps Research and Vanderbilt University are major participants in the NIH-supported Molecular Libraries Probe Centers Network (MLPCN), which seeks to address both of these research opportunities.
  • Personalized medicine in the context of The Human Chemical Sciences Institute refers to the relationship between genetic differences among individuals and corresponding differences in their chemical state and how they respond to various nutrients, drugs, and compounds in their environment. Here too lies an opportunity to develop a new point of view that derives from the interface of chemistry and medicine and yields biomarkers that can be monitored in the clinical setting to evaluate disease risk, response to therapy, and other critical health outcomes.

 

The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will also have a significant training component, consistent with the teaching missions of Scripps Research and Vanderbilt University. Most of this training will be in the context of laboratory research, including collaborative projects involving investigators at both institutions. In addition, a new combined Ph.D./M.D. Program is envisioned that differs from existing M.D./Ph.D. programs.

Faculty members and trainees associated with The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will be uniquely positioned to advance biomedical research through the integration of the chemical and medical sciences. The chemist’s ability to synthesize, modify, and examine the properties of small molecules, together with the clinical scientist’s ability to investigate the behavior of those molecules in the context of human physiology, will open new doors in translational research and lead to a new form of clinical chemistry. The complementary strengths of Scripps Research and Vanderbilt University will facilitate collaborative interactions among their faculty. Individuals affiliated with The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will draw inspiration knowing that their enterprise is the first of its kind worldwide, and likely to become a model for similar initiatives elsewhere. The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will promote research and training activities that reflect the fundamental commitment of both partner institutions to translate basic scientific discoveries into improved outcomes for patients.