Traditional Medicines: Tomorrows Miracle Drugs

Traditional Medicines: Tomorrows Miracle Drugs

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Traditional medicines as they were passed on through generations formed the basis of health care in the earliest civilizations. New medical discoveries evolved from this foundation as the medical field developed throughout the ages. Of particular interest are the highly developed Turkish traditional medicines. Important trade routes from advanced societies such as the Chinese and Islamic nations passed through Turkey, thus introducing their respective medicinal knowledge to this area. In addition, Turkey has a large diversity of endemic plant species which provided them with the necessary natural products used in these "remedies". Dr. Nil Sari has translated Islamic medicinal documents and has identified traditional medicines used to treat what presently is termed "cancer". Professor John Snyder's lab has used Dr. Sari's discoveries to isolate a plant-derived bioactive compound and is currently in the process of synthesizing it.


I joined Professor Snyder's synthetic organic lab group September 1995. I have been assigned my own project under his supervision. The research involves synthesizing a series of triazines with varying substituents. Triazines are molecules with three nitrogen atoms in its structure. These compounds will then be used as prototypes so that I may test different cyanide replacement reactions. In these reactions, cyanide replaces a specific original substituent on the triazine. Cyanide withdraws electrons from the rest of the molecule, making the atoms around the cyanide "electron-deficient". Dr. Snyder's lab synthesizes ringed molecules through an "inverse Diels-Alder" reaction. Generally, an orbital of an electron-deficient molecule with a "double-single-double" bond sequence overlaps with an orbital of an electron rich reactant. The overlapped orbitals form a bond, which in turn forms the reactants into a ringed molecule. Cyanide displacements are thus an important technique in preparing electron-deficient reactants to form ringed molecules.


The triazine series will also be used as testing molecules in the development of a "nitrogen-15" probe. Dr. Hodge Markgraf from Williams College is developing a nuclear magnetic resonance machine for the nitrogen-15 atom. NMR determines the structure of a molecule by plotting the nuclear-spin transitions of the atoms when exposed to an external magnetic field. So far, NMR has mainly focused on the hydrogen-1 and carbon-13 isotopes. The N-15 atom is also NMR active because it has an uneven number of protons (7) and therefore has magnetic properties.

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If successful, the N-15 data will aid in determining the exact structure of molecules containing nitrogen.


Dr. Snyder's research activity ties together two main issues in today's world: medicine and the environment. This research relates the pharmaceutical need for natural medicinal compounds, which promotes the necessity for biodiversity. The medicinal feed stock will only be maintained if the natural habitats in which they are found are protected. In cooperation, science and nature can foster the health of mankind and the planet.


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