Silverman and his research team at Northwestern University study enzymes, the body's finely tuned construction workers, and how they assemble proteins, hormones and other molecules of life. Then the chemists design compounds that can block their action.
"For the most part, we need enzymes. But sometimes they malfunction they may make too much of a product or not enough," the medicinal chemist explained. An overexcited or lagging enzyme, for example, may cause high blood pressure. Or in many cancers, genetic damage can mistakenly turn on enzymes in tissues where they are not meant to act.
Recently Silverman has worked on inhibiting an enzyme that makes nitric oxide, a compound that helps regulate blood pressure, brain development and other critical functions. "Nitric oxide is really good until it's overproduced. Then it turns out to be a fairly reactive molecule that can degrade tissue," he said. "For example, there's evidence that it contributes to damage from stroke and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and arthritis."
The challenge is to block the overproduction nitric oxide in the brain without affecting its normal action in the heart, for instance. One of Silverman's candidate inhibitors has shown that kind of selective promise in enzyme studies, and a French pharmaceutical company is about to start animal tests for stroke and Parkinson's disease.
Silverman said he was intrigued by chemistry and a certain experiment that set his bedroom curtains afire as a young boy. "My mother forbade me and my brother from playing with his chemistry set after that, so I thought it must be pretty cool," he laug
Contact: Sharon Worthy
American Chemical Society