Chemistry & Chemical Biology Faculty Members Awarded Grant to Support "Distributed Drug Discovery" Program

Release Date: 
Aug 21 2012

C&CB faculty members Drs. Bill Scott, Marty O'Donnell, Ryan Denton, and Richard Harper, along with faculty from the Department of Biology, were recently awarded a special NSF grant to implement a pioneering global project that goes beyond traditional bench research to combine the search for drug leads for neglected diseases with undergraduate student training.

IUPUI’s Distributed Drug Discovery (D3) program has trained more than 1,400 sophomore organic chemistry students since 2005. The laboratory involves a five period experiment in solid-phase combinatorial synthesis in which each student or pair of students prepares six different compounds in a multi-step synthetic sequence. The D3 program builds off of fundamental chemistry developed since the mid-1970s in the research laboratories of O’Donnell and Scott. It has been further refined by their undergraduate researchers for ready implementation by the beginning organic chemistry students.  

The program will supply teacher-friendly, self-contained modules of lectures and labs addressing both the practical and theoretical dimensions of science. It will enable participation of schools with limited physical and financial resources, and capitalize on the resulting potential of a distributed problem-solving process involving multiple institutions. There is a strong emphasis on laboratory procedures that are simple, reproducible, and inexpensive, yet powerful enough to enable students to perform significant research during their education. The students have helped IUPUI faculty develop and carry out procedures that permit the synthesis of large numbers of potential drug molecules at academic sites throughout the world. They are co-authors on peer-reviewed articles reporting this work in major scientific journals. Some of the molecules prepared have shown biological activity in screens conducted by the National Institutes of Health to detect activity against both developed world and neglected disease targets. Through a collaborative D3 project, undergraduates at IUPUI and the University of Indianapolis have prepared compounds that have been found to be close analogs of a marketed drug for the treatment of diabetes.

Phase I of the NSF supported project will produce working examples of modules for all three disciplines, with independent professional assessment at all levels. The project is producing educational materials to achieve a readily disseminated multidisciplinary science laboratory. These will be made available to local, national and international colleges and universities so that they too can adopt this contextualized approach to science education. IUPUI faculty and students have published on the concept of D3 and the student implementation of its synthetic component in collaboration with academic labs in the United States, Poland, Russia and Spain. D3 has also attracted the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO). At their request, Dr. Scott traveled to Geneva, Switzerland and Nairobi, Kenya to explore its implementation in schools in Africa as they seek to build African drug discovery infrastructure from the ground up.