Drug Design

One of the most important weapons in the scientific arsenal against cancer and other diseases is, in a word, imitation.

Synthesizing natural compounds with the power to shrink tumors, while also simplifying them to subtract their toxic side effects, is one of several possibilities being investigated by UC Irvine chemistry researchers. They began with a natural alkaloid compound from mold that possessed tumor-fighting properties. Then, through careful chemical manipulations, they turned the compound into a molecular entity that was new to science. This new compound has shown promise in experiments with mice, reducing tumors while causing far fewer toxic effects; the scientists are now working with partners to move toward development of a similar drug for humans.
 
Another initiative targets so-called “epigenetic” factors, non-genetic elements that can, nevertheless, influence how our genes are expressed. This effort takes aim at histones, proteins involved in the transcription of DNA. Control the histones and you can control transcription, altering the way DNA orchestrates the manufacture of proteins; that again could lead to more effective and less toxic drugs to treat cancer.
 
Other investigations seek to unlock the secrets of Alzheimer’s disease, and to find new ways to combat the rising resistance of harmful microbes to antibiotics. All rely on some variation of chemical copycats that bring out the good in natural compounds while leaving out the bad.