Five months on – and there is no looking back. With potassium metal freshly cut, with the glassware, solvent and monomer lines pumped down overnight to 20 mTorr, ready or not, macromolecules, here I come.
November 19, 2011
October 18, 2011
A remarkable molecule: Hygroscopic, edible, stable and pleasantly-tasting natural sugar. While keeping foodstuff moist and producing a desirable mouth-feel, trehalose also masks greasy rancid off-flavors like no other food additive. Trehalose inhibits lipid autooxidation by interacting with the C=C bonds of fatty acids. Trehalose has also a stabilizing effect on denaturation-prone proteins. It is an effective cryoprotectant and anti-desiccant for living cells.
Trehalose is widely used as food additive in Japan. (It got classified by FDA recently as ‘generally recognized safe’ so expect trehalose-immortalized pastry snacks at gas stations soon). Two protein-based drugs co-formulated with trehalose are already on the market.
I would like to direct you to a minireview from Dr. Higashiama, a research team leader at the trehalose manufacturer Hayashibara Co. Some important practical applications are discussed in detail:
“In this application, we examined the suppressive effect of trehalose on human body odor. The typical odor of a senior layer (odor from seniors) increases with age, especially 55 years or older. This odor contains unsaturated aldehydes such as 2-nonenal and 2-octenal. These aldehydes are produced by the degradation of unsaturated fatty acid (palmitoleic acid) in aged people’s skin. The subjects (55 years or older) were selected from our company. After a shower, their body was sprayed with a 2 % trehalose solution. They put on new underwear after the spray. Twenty hours later, the unsaturated aldehydes were sampled from the used underwear shown in this system using DNPH-column. The trapped aldehydes were eluted from this column and were analyzed by gas chromatography. The results showed a decrease of about 70 % in odor from seniors due to the action of trehalose (Fig. 7). This result indicates that trehalose has a suppressive effect on the formation of the odor released by the seniors’ bodies. The same results came out with the oxidation of fatty acid. Therefore, the application of trehalose for cosmetic fields is expected.”
T. Higashiama: Pure and Applied Chemistry 74, 1263–1269
October 4, 2011
Our lab has been smelling a lot like disturbed soil lately, due to my work with 2-ethylfenchol. The flavor and fragrance division of Aldrich is a good place to start when you need highly hindered tertiary alcohols. While many of the low-molecular weight tertiary alcohols are minty and camphor-like, Et-fenchol smells like dirt. Actually in the concentrated state it reeks similar to TBS-silanol, but stronger. In more diluted form though it has a clean smell of freshly dug-up moist earth – the smell is persistant and very convincing; a colleague asked me if he could wear ethylfenchol on his shroud when he goes to a Halloween party dressed as a mummy.
Turns out, 2-ethylfenchol prepared from (+)-enantiomer of fenchone has been developed with a specific purpose: as a substitute for geosmin – the terpenoid metabolite produced by soil bacteria that makes soil smell earthy. The earthy note is desirable in some compositions, i.e. for pipe tobacco flavoring, and since geosmin is rather hard to make cheaply a semisynthetic substitute was found. (Water utility companies are less fond of geosmin; the odor threshold of geosmin is incredibly low. Together with 2-methylisoborneol – another dirty-smelling terpenoid from soil bacteria/fungi – geosmin lends awful taste to tap water).
Et-fenchol from Aldrich comes in kosher grade, with a large seal from rabbi Gershon Segal on the bottle:
September 6, 2011
I got an e-mail from a patent litigation attorney representing a major pharma company, a company that puts beautiful ads on TV almost every night and whose name rhymes with “Mergers and Massacres”. Turns out, they have a problem with one of their drugs: the drug is selling just over a billion a year and a key patent covering this drug is being challenged by two generic companies. And since I am on the patent (with ten other authors), the company lawyers were eager to prepare me in case I get subpoenaed by the other companies challenging the patent. They offered a free legal representation during the hearings and they proposed to pay me as a consultant (“at my usual rate”).
They mentioned that they are trying to piece together the exact timeline of the project – I suppose questions like who proposed/synthesized what and when are important to the defense. And they are having problems: just one person from the original team is currently employed with the company.
This does not surprise me. I was laid off like everyone else when our research site was closed. (Also, our chemistry director was forced out just before the site closure and I heard that the company has brought some heavy investigation down on him). In the end, only a handful of employees got re-hired by our company and moved to other research sites. I suppose tracking down the patent inventors and interviewing them is somewhat difficult now – and it is possible that not everyone wants to be interviewed…
I did not call the company’s patent lawyers as they urged me to but we had a cordial e-mail exchange and I shared some of the impressions and experiences that I had while being (briefly) a part of their company – from the time they acquired us until they shut us down. I also reminisced on the class-action lawsuit that my ex-colleagues brought against the company because the company tried to cut their severance payments after the layoff. (The class action suit was settled out of court when the company paid in full – about 2 years late.)
I also reached out to the two generic companies involved in this litigation and let them know about this approach from my former employer; I offered to answer questions about the history of this drug discovery and I gave them names of the few key inventors on the patent who could perhaps assist them more than I can. Then I wrote back to the legal team of my former employer to inform them that I contacted the other two companies involved in the litigation. I explained that I do not want money but maybe they could re-evaluate how they are going to treat the R&D inventors in the future. You know, in case they need them again.
July 26, 2011
I had a dumb mishap today: A 100mL Schlenk storage flask with 1,5-cyclooctadiene shattered. When I distilled my COD by vacuum transfer this morning I filled the storage flask all the way to the top and then turned the teflon stopcock shut. There was no head space left in the flask; as the liquid warmed from about 10C up to room temperature it expanded enough to burst the glass.
Coincidentally, my colleague finished off a 20L jacketed glass reactor in a similar manner just yesterday – he was cleaning it after the experiment and the heating jacket was shut off, both the inlet and outlet valves were closed while the jacket was still filled with polysiloxane heat transfer fluid. When the reactor was rinsed with ambient water it suddenly shattered: a small temperature difference was apparently enough to cause the silicone fluid expansion in the jacket and there was no air bubble space nor a tubing attachment whereto the silicone liquid could expand. Looking back, this jacket over-pressurizing would not have happened if one of the valves was left open.
I suppose we proved that liquids are incompressible and expand with heat.
June 23, 2011
Today is my first day with a small privately held biotech company that is developing self-assembling polymers for targeted drug delivery. The group and the projects are awesome – and as much as I am excited about the research and the company, for obvious reasons I shouldn’t be writing about it. So there will be nothing new to add here. This is it – thank you for visiting!