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Chemistry Series Aimed at Human Questions

A series of lectures on chemistry continues on Monday, Oct. 24, when Susan Bane, a professor at SUNY Binghamton, will give a presentation on “Designer Drugs: Progress Toward New Anticancer Agents Based on Taxol.”

Bane will begin at 3 p.m. in Sperry Center, Room 304. Her talk, and two others remaining in the series that relates to health, the environment, energy and other critical topics, will feature a light reception at 2:40 p.m. on the day of the lecture in the third floor lobby of Sperry Center. All of the lectures conclude with a 45-minute discussion at 4:15 p.m. in Sperry Center, Room 105.

Sponsored by the Chemistry Department, the Chemistry Club and the Campus Artist and Lecture Series, the lectures and discussions are free and open to the public.

In addition to Bane’s presentation:

• Leland Widger, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University, will discuss “Non-heme Biomimetic Complexes of Mixed N/A Donor Sets” on Nov. 7.

• Akiko Fillinger, an associate professor at Ithaca College, will address “Chemistry for the Future: Materials Design for Alternative Energy Sources” on Nov. 21.

“There is a reason that high school teachers frequently present chemistry as 'the central science,’” said series organizer Karen Downey, a SUNY Cortland assistant professor of chemistry. “It is tremendously applicable to our society’s needs. Chemists contribute to efforts to monitor and to improve our environmental conditions. Chemists work to understand how medicines function in the body, and to design molecules that will more effectively do that work. Chemists investigate how energy and matter interact, and how we can manipulate matter to most safely supply energy for us.

“This seminar series is designed to acquaint members of the Cortland community with current research efforts being pursued not just on our own campus, but at neighboring institutions. Our researches are not carried out in isolation, but as part of a larger scientific community of people contributing their thoughts, insights and hours of effort to improve our understanding of the world around us.”

Susan Bane

Bane, whose work could lead to synthetic cancer drugs with fewer side effects, likes to compare cancer chemotherapy to surgery in the Middle Ages.

“It can be very crude,” she said. “Chemotherapy literally poisons the patient in the hope that the cancer cells will die first. The drug Taxol, for example, a substance made from the needles of the yew tree, attacks a central structure within cells called microtubules.

“Anything a cell does that involves movement involves microtubules,” explains Bane, who has been researching these mysterious microscopic structures at Binghamton since 1985. Her current research in this area is part of the work of a consortium of laboratories from Binghamton, Virginia Tech and Emory University.

“Although Taxol has been very successful as a drug, no one yet knows how exactly it latches on to the proteins on the surface of the microtubules,” Bane said. “Additionally, its low solubility and its propensity to cause drug-resistant tumors are major problems.” 

She will present her investigation on the precise interactions between Taxol and its biological target, the microtubules. Bane and her colleagues aim to use this knowledge to design and synthesize new drugs that will act like Taxol.

“A totally synthetic drug can be designed to retain therapeutic effectiveness while avoiding the problems associated with Taxol,” Bane said.

Leland Widger

Widger, who formerly worked with Frank Rossi, SUNY Cortland assistant professor of chemistry, is currently affiliated with the Goldberg Research Group, which is examining the role of metal ions in enzymes.

Widger’s work focuses on discerning the structural and functional characteristics that are essential to the role of metal ions in metalloenzymes. This is significant in that metals play roles in approximately one-third of the known enzymes.

In his lecture, Widger will focus on the chemistry of non-heme iron centers — meaning those not associated with the blood component called hemoglobin. This area of research is broadly significant in biology and in synthetic chemistry.

Akiko Fillinger

Fillinger hopes with her research to develop materials that will enable humans to use non-petroleum-based energy sources.

The most promising substance she is looking into is called nanocrystalline cuprous oxide (Cu2O).  When the single crystals — sub-micron in dimension — of material are illuminated in water with sunlight, the energy of the sun’s photons can be absorbed by the nanocrystalline Cu2O and converted to electricity.

“Our ultimate goal with nanocrystalline Cu2O is to generate hydrogen gas by splitting water,” Fillinger said, noting the process potentially will provide an environmentally friendly energy source in an environmentally sensible manner.

For more information, contact Pam Smith in the Chemistry Department at (607) 753-4323 or Karen Downey.