Synthetic and Chemical Biological Studies of Lomaiviticins A and B
Herzon’s research focuses broadly on the chemical synthesis of natural products that perform important biological functions, but which nevertheless may be in short supply. His research group recently developed a process to synthesize the neuro-protective agent huperzine A, and is now working with the U.S. Army to evaluate its potential as defense against chemical weapons such as sarin and VX, among the most toxic compounds known to man. As an early-career teacher, Herzon monitors Yale undergraduates in his laboratory, and he has developed two new graduate level courses in chemistry. He has also established an exchange program with Haverford College, a competitive liberal arts institution outside Philadelphia. Through this program, Haverford undergraduates are exposed to the front-lines of chemistry by conducting hands-on research in Herzon’s laboratory each summer. He has also helped organize Yale’s Science Pathways program. It seeks to encourage high school students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to pursue degrees in science. Herzon received the Cottrell Scholar Award based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. His research project involves completing the synthesis of an unusual compound produced by a rare marine bacterium. The compound, discovered in 2001, is called lomaiviticin, and researchers say they believe it may be effective in targeting cancer stem cells, especially those that cause ovarian, brain, lung and prostate cancers, as well as leukemia. Herzon, who has been working on the compound since 2008, managed to create one form of lomaiviticin in the laboratory for the first time. "But this compound is structurally very different from other natural products, which has made it extremely difficult to synthesize in the lab," he said. Gil Mor, M.D., a researcher at the Yale School of Medicine who is collaborating with Herzon, said of lomaiviticin’s potential, "If you can kill the stem cells before they have the chance to form a tumor, the patient will have a much better chance of survival.” Meanwhile, Herzon’s Cottrell Scholar education project involves improving Yale’s sophomore organic chemistry course. “Sophomore ‘orgo’ is truly a gateway class, he said. “It is the point at which many students make their decisions to pursue chemistry as a major. By improving teaching, and improving the way students learn, we can stimulate more undergraduates to select chemistry as a course of study in the long-term.” He added he hopes to take the teaching improvements he makes to the organic chemistry course available to other junior faculty at Yale. “It’s likely to be relevant to instructors across disparate disciplines,” Herzon said.