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Researcher Devises New Way of Creating Useful Atom-rings

Originally Published 3 Decmber 1997

University of Warwick Chemist Dr Andrew Clark has devised a method of creating medically useful linked rings of atoms that do not rely on the toxic, expensive, environmentally unfriendly methods used until now.

A large number of biologically and or medicinally active chemicals (e.g drugs and naturally occurring biological molecules) contain rings of atoms linked together. If we wish to treat diseases by the discovery of new drugs or design new "smart" materials it is of vital importance that chemists can construct these rings of atoms efficiently. One approach to making rings is that of stitching two ends of a chain of atoms together via a reactive molecule called a "free radical". Virtually all free radical reactions use other chemicals to "initiate" the construction process. Most procedures use one initiator in particular, called "tributyl tin hydride", however it has the following disadvantages:

  • It is highly toxic.
  • It is quite expensive.
  • A large quantity of the chemical is normally required.
  • It is destroyed in the stitching process and its remaining toxic residues are often difficult to separate (i.e. uneconomic) from the final desired ring product.
  • Once finally separated from the desired ring product it is necessary to dispose of large amounts of the toxic chemical residues (i.e. it is environmentally unacceptable).

Andrew Clark and his fellow researchers have developed an alternative chemical based upon copper to control and initiate the stitching process. The new mediator is very cheap (900 times less expensive). It is just as efficient as the old initiator, even when the team use ten times less. The new chemical is also a catalyst which means that it is not destroyed in the stitching process. The catalyst can be easily recovered from the reaction and it can be re-used again in other reactions. Consequently, as a bonus there are no toxic residues to dispose of. The team will use their new catalyst to make rings important to the drug discovery process.

A presentation on this work at a special event held at the House of Commons last week earned Dr Clark the Society of Chemical Industry UK Prize. The award ceremony was organised by the Chemistry Research for Britain organisation which is supported by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, learned societies, professional associations and institutions active in chemical science, and also by the UK's science research councils. Two dozen MPs were in attendance at the event.


For further details please contact:
Dr Andrew Clark
Department of Chemistry,
University of Warwick,
Tel: 024 76 523242


Further information about the above press release and all other media services at the University of Warwick can be obtained from:

Peter Dunn,
Press Officer
University of Warwick
West Midlands
Tel: 024 76 523708