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Dr. Garry Grubbs, assistant professor of chemistry, received nearly $60,000 in July from the National Science Foundation through an early-concept “EAGER” grant for his experiment designed to rapidly identify the atomic structure of chiral molecules widely used in pharmaceutical drugs. The finding could significantly reduce the time and costs involved in pharmaceutical development and manufacturing.
EAGER projects explore untested, but potentially transformative research ideas considered “high risk-high payoff” because they involve radically different approaches or engage novel perspectives.
Chiral molecules possess identical atomic connectivity, but their atoms are arranged in mirror-image configurations that cannot be superimposed on each other. Even though chiral molecules are nearly physically identical, life cells chemically respond with the desired pharmacological effect to only one of the mirrored molecular structures, making their identification a crucial task.
“The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have an efficient technique to discern the chirality of certain molecular structures used in drug development,” says Grubbs. “Because a lack of discernment can lead to dangerous physiological effects in medicines, much time and care is now being taken to ensure the correct chiral form is used in drug synthesis.”
Grubbs has proposed a method to speed up this process by using an existing, advanced microwave spectroscopy technique known to distinguish molecules in three-dimensional space on molecular effects generated by singular atomic nuclei. Based on these interactions, he seeks to tease out and gather the information to identify chiral molecules.