Pittsburgh researcher receives national award: Finds new ways to make molecules used as anti-cancer drugs

Finds new ways to make molecules used as anti-cancer drugs

Chemist Dennis P. Curran of Pittsburgh, Penn., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for finding new ways to make molecules used as anti-cancer drugs. He will receive the American Chemical Society Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry at the Society's national meeting in San Francisco.

Curran specializes in radical chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is the Bayer Professor of Chemistry as well as a Distinguished Service Professor. Simply put, he uses free radicals to explore new ways to assemble compounds.

Fifteen years ago, free radicals - the kind of molecules that opened up the ozone hole over Antarctica, for example - were considered too reactive to be useful in the laboratory. But adventurous researchers like Curran have found conditions and strategies to channel that "hyperreactivity" in useful directions.

For example, Curran's team has been working for the past 10 years on compounds derived from camptothecin, an anti-cancer agent originally found in a common tree in China.

"At the beginning, we were just trying to develop a new way to make five-membered rings (of carbon)," he said. "Our method worked, but then the radical went on to make a six-membered ring. We looked at it and said hey, that looks like a big piece of camptothecin."

Camptothecin exhibits good tumor-killing activity in the test tube, but it is broken down too quickly in the body to be useful in treating cancer. Two derivatives of camptothecin have proven more stable and are currently on the market.

Curran's group first developed a free-radical synthesis of camptothecin. Now, the group is applying those techniques to making hundreds of candidate derivatives. Several of them, so far tested in mice, appear to share the current products' anti-cancer action but are even more stable - potentially allowing a lower dose of chemotherap

Contact: Christina Curtin
American Chemical Society

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