When we think about chemistry, the image that usually comes to mind is some sort of laboratory with bubbling, colorful substances in every-sized flasks over an ancient-looking Bunsen burner. We think of fume hoods with chemicals we probably shouldn’t be inhaling and little glass vials that probably should be labeled. We think of a traditional chemistry lab. However, an article recently published in ScienceDaily has a new, different image of chemistry…chemistry done within the laboratory of the human body.
A newly founded field of chemistry, by Carolyn Bertozzi, Ph.D., has started to emerge for the past decade known as bioorthogonal chemistry. First emerging from her study of viewing a virus entering a cell with fluorescent probes, its focus is a new form of drug development where chemical ingredients are added separately into the body where they eventually meet up at a designated point, create a reaction, and cure the patient. How is this different from other, pre-made oral drugs? Sometimes the oral drugs never reach the goal location strong enough to make an effect on the diseased tissue targeted. With this new method, the numerous ingredients, just like in a laboratory setting, are added separately, with each keeping their strong concentrations. Then, at a given point, they come in contact with one another, and a reaction occurs to produce the desired drug within the patient’s body.
However, as exciting as this may sound, it’s a bit trickier than it seems. In a lab, the conditions are easily controllable. (Ex. Temperature, timing, light exposure, cleanliness, etc.) In the human body, things are not quite so black and white. It’s more of all gray. There are different compounds, chemicals, and water all over the place, with little controls. Plus these chemists are restricted to reactions that can only occur in water, having the pH of 7, and at body temperature. After fighting through all of these obstacles, only then can the drugs begin to be made within the body.