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$1.9M NIH Grant to Support Development of New Methods to Create Drugs

By Maryland Today Staff

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a five-year, $1.9 million grant to a University of Maryland researcher who is breaking new ground in the effort to synthesize drugs.

Osvaldo Gutierrez, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is creating shortcuts for costly trial and error by modeling chemical reactions on computers before taking his experiments into the lab. This allows him to predict how atoms and molecules will arrange themselves during chemical reactions and gives him a leg up on medicine experimentation.

Gutierrez is among the few organic chemists in the world with expertise in both computational chemistry and experimental chemistry, and his lab is one of the only ones in the country taking that dual approach.

The highly competitive Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) grant aims to give researchers the flexibility to pursue their research as it evolves, exploring uncharted territory and pursuing high-risk ideas, rather than being held to specific outcomes.

Gutierrez and his research team are well versed in pursuing high-risk ideas. A central focus—using iron as a catalyst to form carbon-carbon bonds—has generally been avoided by other researchers, because iron is highly reactive and challenging to work with. The MIRA will also support work to understand how light activates certain catalysts, kicking off chemical reactions used to manufacture medicinal compounds.

By better understanding the catalytic processes, Gutierrez’s work will help synthetic chemists control and optimize the reactions, improving efficiency and potentially reducing the time and expense of making many medicinal compounds.

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