Molecules Readied To Fight Diseases

Professor John Moses will be looking to develop new click chemistry – a method that will help discover and develop biologically active molecules in the fight against cancer and antibiotic resistance thanks to funding from the Federal Government.

The four years of funding for the research of the eminent La Trobe University scientist will be through the Australian Research Council’s Future Fellowships scheme.

“I am really excited about developing next generation click chemistry, which will ultimately be used to help treat disease,” says Professor Moses. “Chemistry, and more importantly, reactivity, have the power to influence diseases and biology. It can be the difference between kill or cure, and that is incredible.

“Molecules are like keys that can unlock complex biological systems, and it’s our job to make these sophisticated keys.”

Professor Moses has been swiftly congratulated by his mentor, friend and collaborator, the Nobel Prize winning scientist Professor Barry Sharpless, on the huge potential of the Fellowship.

“The Australian Government has backed the right man to make something even bigger out of the science,” says Professor Sharpless.

Professor Moses, who is at the Sharpless Lab in California this week, says: “Our next generation click chemistry will have a particular focus on creating highly versatile and robust connective linkers and functional molecules.

“We are guided by the underlying principle that all of our searches must be restricted to molecules that are easy to make. It is a principle born to meet the demands of modern day chemistry and the rigour of drug discovery.”

The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at La Trobe University, Professor Keith Nugent, is thrilled that in La Trobe’s 50th anniversary, such potentially significant work will continue for the next four years with the funding of the Australian Research Council.

“Professor Moses is part of an incredible research team at La Trobe University,” said Professor Nugent. “His work in this specific area could help our scientists here develop other practical uses from this chemistry.”

As Professor Moses, who studied at Oxford University, adds: “This is an exciting time for click chemistry. There are applications for this technology in biology, drug discovery, chemical biology and materials. It is probably the most generally useful chemistry out there.

“Because chemists lack Nature’s ability to perfectly control complex chemistry, the essence of click chemistry relies on highly energetic ‘spring-loaded’ reactions to make molecules.

“Nature takes a selection of, say 20 or 30, building blocks and creates huge diversity from them. We mimic that strategy in click chemistry, but the question becomes, how do we stick the building blocks together?

“Click chemistry is the solution to this problem; it is the molecular mortar. What you want is a reaction that works every time, superglue basically, that ‘sticks’ everything.”

In addition to the fight against cancer, Professor Moses’ innovative brand of click chemistry will look to fight bacterial resistance to antibiotics. “What we want to do is take existing antibiotics and re-engineer them, tweak them, do some fancy chemistry and perhaps find new modes of action,” he says. “Rather than start from square one, there is a whole industry surrounding these compounds, so let’s see what we can do with them.”

It is all part of a natural progression for Professor Moses, who has always had a fascination with the building blocks of life – whether they be molecules or bricks and mortar. “Growing up in Rhosllanerchrugog, I used to work with my dad, who was a builder,” he said. “I enjoyed construction, and seeing small things come together to make houses.

“It’s the same principle as click chemistry. You take small units and stick them together like bricks. You can create beautiful things using a modular approach.”

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