A BYU research group has reached a breakthrough in its study of a complex chemical compound, an accomplishment that is already garnering significant respect from the scientific community.
Dr. Steven L. Castle, an associate professor in the BYU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his research team recently completed the total synthesis of acutumine. The team also includes graduate student Fang Li and undergraduate student Samuel S. Tartakoff.
Acutumine, which comes from an Asian hanging vine, is often used in Chinese medicine to reduce pain and fever and has a unique structure. Castle said acutumine has anti-amnesic properties in rats, meaning that it can potentially restore memory loss in humans.
The process used to synthesize acutumine includes new chemical reactions that could be used by pharmaceutical companies to synthesize medicines, he said.
Unfortunately, due to the compound’s complex structure, it took 42 years for someone to synthesize acutumine following its discovery.
“The structure is so challenging that people weren’t trying to make it until 8 or 9 years ago,” Castle said.
Castle has been researching acutumine since 2003. Fang Li began his research in 2004. Their article, entitled “Total Synthesis of (–)-Acutumine,” was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society web site on April 28 and quickly skyrocketed into popular demand.
The paper ranked 7th on the Journal of the American Chemical Society’s most-read papers list for April. The journal publishes more than 200 papers in any given month.
A summary of the article – and many positive reviews – can be found on a web site created by Oxford graduate Paul Docherty. Docherty, who started www.totallysynthetic.com in 2006, has summarized papers from many top universities, including Stanford, Harvard and MIT, on his site. Castle is pleased by the exposure that Docherty’s site will offer BYU, his students, and their ongoing research.