Wayne State and Virginia chemist wins national award for work with drugs

Carl R. Johnson of Hartfield, Va., will be honored August 20 by the world's largest scientific society for helping develop more efficient ways to invent and produce pharmaceutical drugs. He will receive the 2002 Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Boston.

During his 40-year career at Wayne State University in Detroit, Johnson's work took a number of twists but maintained a common theme. "Throughout my career," he said, "I've tried to relate chemistry to biology, to do things of interest to the pharmaceutical industry."

He began with studying sulfur-based compounds and how he could use them to tailor-make starting materials and methods to build biologically active compounds. That was more than 200 research papers, seven books and some 200 doctorate and post-doctorate students ago.

In the last decade, said Johnson, researchers have learned that sugar molecules -- in addition to providing energy for humans and other organisms, as does glucose, and structural support, as does cellulose -- serve as "ID tags" on the surface of cells. Hormones use them to identify their target tissue, for example. But so do infectious organisms, like viruses.

"So we began to look at groups of molecules that would mimic the sugars in hopes they might complex with the parasite, virus or bacterium -- and by 'complexing' with it would prevent it from attacking the host cell," said Johnson. "And we tried to make those molecules using unusual chemistry." For instance, he and his group would assemble a complex sugar unit using bacterial enzymes and simple organic starting materials, he added.

Growing up in the small town of Orange, Va., "the closest thing we had to a scientist was our local pharmacist. That's largely why I went to pharmacy school," said Johnson. "But I soon found the thing that was very interesting to me was a chemistry course I took. I knew then what I really wanted to do was be

Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

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