A new report published in Future Medicinal Chemistry has urged biomedical researchers to use online web resources “very carefully”, taking into account their complementary benefits and weaknesses, when selecting small-molecule chemical probes to help answer their research questions.

The report, which was carried out by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, assessed all of the publicly available resources on chemical probes and strongly recommended that researchers should avoid general search engines and vendor catalogue information and instead use two kinds of online resource.

The resources - expert reviews and computational Big Data approaches - were recommended in order to make the best decisions about which chemical probes to use in biomedical research, and also to avoid poor selection of tools that can lead to incorrect conclusions.

Alongside the resources, the report also emphasises the usefulness of resources that provide objective assessment of chemical probes using large-scale, quantitative computational analysis, highlighting Probe Miner, a public web-based resource that was launched by the ICR research team in 2017 with funding from Wellcome.

Chemical probes are “vital tools” in biomedical research, explained study co-leader Professor Bissan Al-Lazikani, “playing a key role in understanding how proteins work and what impact they have in cancer cells.

“These chemical tools frequently also power the start of campaigns to discover new cancer drugs. So it’s of the utmost importance that scientists are careful and thorough when choosing chemical probes for their experiments. Failure to do so can result in unreliable or misleading results.”

He continued to say that “Big Data approaches are a major step forward in bringing together the most up-to-date evidence. We really need to be combining the different sources of information so that researchers can get the best possible information about chemical probes.”

There is currently a pressing need to supply biomedical scientists with appropriate information so that they can select the best possible chemical probes for their experiments, helping to ensure that their research findings are robust.