University of North Carolina chemist wins national award for natural products research

Chemist Michael T. Crimmins of Durham, N.C., will be honored August 28 by the worlds largest scientific society for developing laboratory methods to make molecules from nature that exhibit anti-tumor activity and other potentially useful properties. He will receive the 2001 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Chicago.

Crimmins research team at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, often aims to make laboratory versions of compounds found in plants or microorganisms. Particularly interesting are those that may be active against bacteria (antibiotics), cancer cells or other forms of human disease, he said.

"Theyre usually found only in very small amounts in nature, so the ultimate goal is not only to make the compounds but also to make them as efficiently as possible," explained Crimmins.

He is especially proud of his groups 10-year effort to synthesize a chemical from the gingko tree called gingkolide B, an achievement realized two years ago. Asian cultures have known for thousands of years that gingko extracts improve circulation in the body, but recent evidence suggests the compound may also delay the onset of Alzheimers disease.

"Gingkolide Bs molecular architecture is really very unusual and very complex," said Crimmins. A new reaction his team developed makes two new ring structures and four asymmetric carbon centers in a single step, he said. "Its just so intriguing," said the organic chemist. "People liken total synthesis to climbing mountains heres a mountain, lets go climb it. To me, this particular synthesis was Mount Everest."

Crimmins chose chemistry because "its very much like solving logic problems," he said. "I've always liked to make things with my hands, and here I can build things I can take pride in."


Contact: Rodney Pearson
American Chemical Society

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