High Tech with a Human Touch
Associate Professor of Chemistry
B.S., Manhattan College, 1994
M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Columbia University, 1999
Postdoctoral Fellow, Columbia University, 1999-2002
Phone: (321) 674 - 8902
Office: 323 Olin Physical Sciences Building
Nature is the single best and most omniscient source of information with which we can all be in touch. An improvement of our understanding of basic phenomena is a mere development of the medium by which we interact with nature. Chemistry, one such medium, offers a wide variety of techniques through which we can essentially observe natural phenomena thus learning first hand lessons from nature.
We are interested in applying these lessons in the development of novel structures that have the ability to carry out a function of interest. Enzyme catalysis which remains superior to any single organic reaction, in both rate and specificity, is the result of eons of irrational adaptation and evolution directed at achieving such a function. With modern tools, such as X-ray analysis, scientists have been able to "view" the intricate details that such an adaptation has evolved into. Biomimetic chemists take the many years of evolution and introduce them into a novel and rationally designed system that in effect mimics what nature strives to achieve. While nature has had billions of trials and errors over billions of years, we compete with several trials over perhaps several years, and still do well enough to achieve moderate rates and often quite decent selectivities. In one of our projects, we will combine the power of evolution along with human rational design in optimizing a receptor for a biologically active structure, via the irrational combinatorial approach of catalytic antibodies, and the rational design of an intricate catalytic moiety to perform the function of interest. For instance, cocaine addiction remains to be one of the most elusive dilemmas in drug therapy. This is due to the fact that antagonists simply bind to the same dopamine transporter that cocaine binds to thus rendering similar detrimental effects. A better and more promising approach will endeavor at chemically destroying cocaine via catalytic hydrolysis of one of its ester bonds. Therefore cocaine will present an ideal candidate for the design of our catalytic system.
One of the most fascinating and high efficiency systems in nature is vision. The high efficiency derives from the fact that a single photon of light is sufficient in activating a thousand G-proteins which in turn results in the hydrolysis of ca. 100,000 cGMP to GMP ultimately leading to a neuronal signal. A study of these proteins through the design and synthesis of various visual chromophores will slowly unravel this intriguing design eventually leading us in the direction of the design of similar systems geared to current needs including therapeutic treatments.