A faculty-student research team in the chemistry labs at the University of Redlands has advanced a new approach to a critical process in pharmaceutical drug development that could reduce the time and cost of bringing a drug from concept to market.
Jeryl Anne Chica ’17, who graduated summa cum laude in April, joined Chemistry Professor David Soulsby’s research team as a transfer student in 2015. Their research also required a third team member: the department’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, an instrument much like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Instead of looking at parts of the human body, the NMR spectrometer looks at individual atoms like carbons, hydrogens, and oxygens to see how they fit together to make molecules.
The initial research goal was to develop “original and innovative ways” to integrate the NMR spectrometer with newly released state-of-the-art software called Complete Reduction to Amplitude-Frequency Table (CRAFT).
“CRAFT allows us to analyze large amounts of data more quickly and easily,” says Soulsby, who has taught at U of R since 2001. “It is also very easy for students to learn how to use.”
Working one or two afternoons each week, Chica established research protocols to make the process reproducible, using the software for measuring a parameter known as “partition coefficients.”
“If you were to add a compound to salad dressing, for example, and shake it up, the compound will move between two layers—oil and water—until eventually there would be a portion of that compound in each layer,” Soulsby says. “That is the model for when an ingested drug enters into a cell. A cell is fat on the outside, like the oil. The bloodstream is like the water. How well the drug likes the cell wall tells us if it is going to be absorbed into a cell or go straight through a patient.”
“Pharmaceutical companies need these certain values to identify promising drug candidates, and that is what can be measured with this technique,” Chica adds. “And because of this new approach, the researcher can do more experiments and take multiple tries because it is quick and easy.”
A manuscript of the work was published online ahead of print in February by Magnetic Resonance in Chemistry, and Chica presented the study at the spring national meeting of the American Chemical Society with more than 10,000 researchers in attendance. To help cover the conference costs for her and five other U of R students, Chica helped lead crowdfunding efforts to raise funds from nearly 50 donors.
Chica says she has loved her research role at Redlands and will apply to medical school after taking a gap year. Soulsby hopes to continue the research with incoming chemistry majors because there is much more work to do. “The NMR spectrometer has revolutionized the curriculum in the chemistry department and plays a critical role in advancing faculty research goals.”