Sequencing of human genome has brought new challenges to pharmaceutical industries: thousands of new target molecules, millions of genetic variations and billions of compounds to experiment. Solutions to these challenges are not easy and researchers are taking the “Combinatorial” approach more seriously.
What do we mean by the term “Combinatorial”? In simple words, “Combinatorial” means a way to find promising compounds or materials via a route that is faster, better and cheaper. To conduct a study in a traditional sense, we mean a few measurements or a few samples at a time. In “Combinatorial” approach, we are talking to the scale of hundreds and thousands of measurements at a time. These “High-Throughput” solutions are due to the combinations of tools and techniques such as robotics, computation and miniaturization. This High-Throughput Technology (HTPT), has been gestating and growing for over 3 decades. In fact, J.J. Hanak reported the first example of a combinatorial approach with increased efficiency for the discovery of new materials in 1970 (J. Mat. Sci., 1970, 5, 1964). Only recently, the technology has started to mature and is showing great promises in the field of polymers.
How does the technology work? Lets think of a polymer and set out its properties that we would like to produce. Once that is done, next step for a chemist would be to create a library of compounds (using robots or automated tools) based on physical and structural properties that are likely to yield the desired polymer. Many different variables can be inserted e.g., temperature, pressure, thickness, composition etc. This library of compounds is then screened for “Lead” candidates that could produce the polymer imagined. For instance, how to design a new catalyst, optimize a reaction conditions for the controlled preparation of nanoscale materials (advanced materials), or produce a biodegradable polymer blends with optimum microstructure (tissue engineering) are among the several benefits of High-Throughput Technology. HTPT can be exploited to synthesize polymers that can give functional attributes such as wettability, lubricity, anti-adhesion properties or enhance the activity of a functional molecule.
Symyx Technologies Inc. has constructed discovery platforms as a part of HTP Technology aiming at materials that show high affinity to specific surfaces. Recently, Symyx has provided a second module of Discovery ToolsTM to GIRSA which performs an average of 48 experiments a day for the development, discovery and optimization of different polymers (July 10, 2001 Business Wire). Industries (IBM, GE etc) and Institutes (NIST, Univ. of California etc.) alike are busy to develop polymeric materials from this technology. Several works on HTPT have been presented in Fall 2001 meeting of American Chemical Society (Polymer Preprints 42 (2), 2001). Very soon HTP Technology will be the driving force behind many discoveries.