The research was conducted in three consecutive semesters by a total of 24 students of the bachelor programme Pharmaceutical Sciences and supervised by medicinal chemists Tom Dekker, Iwan de Esch and Maikel Wijtmans. Wijtmans: “The molecules synthesised by the students are diverse in their chemical properties and can now be tested on potential drug targets.” The extensive collection of molecules is published in the open access journal Molecules.
Molecules from natural origin
Rapid advances are being made in obtaining molecules from controlled heating (pyrolysis) of biomass polymers, such as cellulose and chitin. This has made unique molecules available that are obtained at large-scale and in a sustainable manner. The molecules developed at VU Amsterdam originate from Cyrene, a sustainable and inexpensive resource obtained from cellulose biomass. It is recommended as a sustainable alternative for classical solvents, but its use as a building block in medicinal chemistry is rare. To ensure a higher probability of the molecules binding to drug targets and ultimately becoming a central part of future medicines, the researchers used a fragment-based drug discovery approach. The research was carried out in close collaboration with Jaap Harteveld, Gábor Wágner, Max de Vries, Andrea van de Stolpe and Hans Custers.
Training students in ‘green’ research
This study not only showcases the integration of bachelor education and research, but combines two key strategic themes of VU Amsterdam: health and sustainability. Throughout their internships, the third-year bachelor students were exposed first-hand to research with immediate relevance to two big questions in contemporary science, namely how we can treat diseases and how we can make sustainable use of natural resources. This study therefore aligns well with the international call for training future scientists to have a ‘green’ research mindset.
Photo: all students who worked on the collection of molecules in academic year 2021-2022. Nine students from academic year 2020-2021 were also involved.