By combining two century-old techniques in organic chemistry, Syuzanna Harutyunyan is able to make organic compounds with greater ease and precision. Such compounds are important for drug discovery and development. Harutyunyan's method is described in a paper that published by the journal Science on 22 April.
Almost 90 percent of known active pharmaceutical ingredients contain one or more 'heterocyclic aromatic rings', structures that contain atoms of at least two different elements. Most of these rings contain carbon and nitrogen atoms. 'Connecting two carbon atoms is a crucial step in synthesizing heterocycle-containing molecules', explains University of Groningen Associate Professor of Synthetic Organic Chemistry Syuzanna Harutyunyan. But carbon-carbon bonds are notoriously difficult to make. An intermediary step is often required, but this makes the synthetic process longer and thus less efficient.Furthermore, many pharmaceutically relevant heterocyclic molecules are chiral, which means they are present in two mirror-image versions. These versions often exhibit different biological activities. 'So we need a way to create the right chiral version as well', says Harutyunyan. In the Science paper, Harutyunyan and her team describe just that: the efficient creation of carbon-carbon bonds with a high chiral selectivity for a wide range of nitrogen-containing heterocyclic molecules. For this breakthrough, Harutyunyan reverted to methods from the early twentieth century. Grignard reagents, originally developed by Victor Grignard, the first laureate of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1912, are still an important tool in creating carbon-carbon bonds.
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