Atlanta researcher receives national award

Finds ways to streamline drug synthesis

Washington D.C., August 15 -- Chemist Albert Padwa of Atlanta, Ga., will be honored on August 22 by the world's largest scientific society for developing fundamental techniques to streamline the synthesis of potential drugs derived from nature. He will receive the 2000 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its 220th national meeting in Washington, D.C.

"Nature gives us a vast variety of molecules with biological activity, from bacteria, plants, sponges, frogs, all kinds of organisms," said Padwa, a professor of chemistry at Emory University.

Pharmaceutical companies modify such natural products to enhance activity -- stop tumor growth, for example -- and minimize toxicity. Using a toolbox of chemical reactions, researchers orchestrate step-by-step sequences to make potential drugs.

Padwa, an organic synthetic chemist who described himself as a "molecular tinker-toy builder," said the goal "is to do it with elegance, high efficiency and all in one pot" -- where traditional chemistry requires dozens of individual, time-consuming steps.

He is particularly interested in cycloadditions, a type of reaction that turns fragments of molecules into the ring-shaped structures common to many natural products. The trick is to assemble the rings in their proper orientations. Biological compounds have left- and right-handed versions, like gloves, that have specific and often diverse properties.

Padwa became a chemist largely because he had "wonderful teachers who helped me recognize the beauty of science," he said. "People sometimes think it's hardcore or dull. But I look at building molecules the same as Picasso assembled a piece of art. And just think of the impact -- new drugs, plastics, computers, insect control -- life would be pretty uncomfortable without it."


Contact: Christina Curtin
American Chemical Society

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