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Vol 24, No. 06, June 2020   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
BIOBOARD
Eliminating Drug Side Effects by Manipulation of Molecular Asymmetry
Scientists from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have developed a novel technique that can produce pure therapeutic drugs without the associated side effects.

The research findings were published in the international scientific journal Nature Chemistry, may set the road for mass production of purer, cheaper and safer drugs to be created in a scalable and environmentally-friendly way.

In this new approach, a nanostructure fabrication device is used, which can manipulate the chirality of drug molecules. Through the control of the direction a substrate is rotated within the device, it will eliminate the possible side effects that can arise when some people consume drugs containing molecules with incorrect chirality.

Some chemical molecules share the same formula but are mirror images of each other, these are called chiral versions. The two versions are identified based on the direction it is facing – left or right.

More than half of the therapeutic drugs are made up of equal amounts of left-handed and right-handed chiral molecules, commonly known as "racemates"; one can cure specific diseases, but the other may have adverse effects. Separating and producing molecules with only the chiral arrangement (known as a single enantiomer) responsible for the therapeutic effects can help to produce drugs with improved safety and efficacy.

The current technology to produce single-enantiomer drugs is very expensive and not environmentally friendly.

The team at the Department of Physics at the Hong Kong Baptist University led by Dr Jeffery Huang Zhifeng developed a novel approach to manipulate the molecular chirality through macro-scale control. The method was developed in collaboration with the Sichuan University, Guangxi Medical University and the Southern University of Science and Technology.

It involves mediating the manipulation with helical metal nanostructures (i.e. metal nanohelices) that are in the shape of a helical spring, and they have a characteristic size of one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.

"Our success in manipulating molecular chirality through macroscopic engineering allows the convenient synthesis of drugs in single-enantiomer forms with only left- or right-handedness. Hence, it will help get rid of the adverse, sometimes fatal, side effects of many therapeutic drugs," said Dr Huang.

The use of chiral ligands in the conventional method of asymmetric synthesis is inevitable, and it may cause pollution to enter the environment. In contrast, in this novel approach the metal nanohelices can be used repeatedly to produce single-enantiomer drugs without the use of chiral ligands. As a result, it paves the way towards the mass production of affordable therapeutic drugs that are made in a scalable manner with recyclable materials.

 

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