By Monique Lewis
The Daily Times
SALISBURY, MD---Two chemistry professors at Salisbury University hope their research will one day eradicate harmful effects of tuberculosis and pesticides.
Miguel Mitchell said two of his compounds are ready for animal testing in anticipation to market a less expensive and debilitating drug that would shut down the ability of tuberculosis to use oxygen.
Unlike other antibiotics, Mitchell said TB can't hide or breathe around his drugs, the result of six years of work. Up to three million people die of TB every year and Mitchell said it's time for the airborne bacteria to retire.
"It is the most devastating disease infection in the world," he said. "It's often found in poor people."
Mitchell said he made several compounds to prevent TB's ability to breathe after he read an essay that said oxygen was the key to kill the disease.
"I decided as a chemist that I could make a whole bunch of these compounds and find the most effective one," Mitchell said.
The antibiotics used to fight off TB today require the patient to endure about four drugs in a six- to 12-month period, he said. The status quo presents a couple of problems -- expensive treatment and the potential to become drug-resistant.
Also, if a patient feels that he's OK and stops taking the medicine even for one day, TB can become drug-resistant very quickly, he said. That can be fatal.
"They're nasty drugs that cause kidney and liver damage," said Mitchell, whose grandfather survived TB.
Although it's not prevalent in Western countries, Mitchell said there have been instances where TB has been resistant to everything. Once it gets into the lungs it begins to replicate and can lie dormant. When it suddenly becomes active, it forms fluid and causes the lungs to look like those of a smoker, Mitchell said.
He and his research team of students plan to publish their work in the near future. Prior to working with Mitchell, Jay Kalin said he didn't know what he wanted to do with a chemistry degree. Kalin worked on the experiment the entire summer.
"(It's exciting) just knowing you made compounds that no one else has made," he said.
The team recently received its data from the University of Illinois at Chicago that the toxicity was low enough with a high potential of fighting TB in the dormant phase, SU senior Kalin said.
Elizabeth Papish, also a chemistry professor at SU, has worked three years on making a molecule to imitate the enzyme that cleanses fields from the harmful substances in pesticides.
The process involves heating the molecules and adding Zinc or Cobalt metals to imitate the enzyme, Papish said, and it's very time consuming. It took her student researcher, Finith Jernigan, six months to complete the process.
"When I started as a sophomore, I had no idea I could attempt to do this," Jernigan said. "It's exciting to work on a project—as an undergraduate—that could have impacts on the future of quality of life and break down pesticides."
Once Jernigan adds the metal to the molecule, he can tell by the color how close the molecule imitates the enzyme—one of many tests.
"I think we're closer than we've been in a long time," Papish said. "It's a never-ending process," adding that often her research team must go back to the drawing board just when it thinks it has reached the end.
Even if the team creates a molecule that looks like the enzyme, it's exciting, she said. Papish was hesitant to say how close her research team was to imitating the enzyme because it still has a lot of work to do.
But Mitchell said he hopes to test his antibiotic drug for TB in five years.
Reprinted with permission of The Daily Times