Texas A&M Chemist Builds On Natural Systems To Fight Human Disease

By: KBTX Staff Email
By: KBTX Staff Email

(Press Release) Solutions sometimes can be found in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the bottom of the ocean.

For more than a decade, Texas A&M University chemist and former student Daniel Romo has been squeezing life-saving answers out of sea sponges found in the chilly waters off the coast of New Zealand in an effort to fight cancer and other human diseases — work that he believes merely scratches the promise-laden surface found at the crossroads of chemistry and biology.

Romo, who earned bachelor’s degrees in both subjects from Texas A&M in 1986, is a master of synthetic manipulation; a middleman with a unique set of skills capable of changing the high-stakes game of human disease — from diagnosis and treatment to prevention and possible cures — with the help of solutions provided by Mother Nature herself.

His pioneering research explores the untapped potential of natural products — specifically, organisms found in nature, from sea sponges to plants to bacteria, which he synthesizes in his laboratory in hopes of exploiting their utility in basic studies of human cell biology and as lead compounds for drug development.

“Our most successful example is Pateamine A, a compound that comes from marine sponges and that the lab is currently working on to determine its usefulness as an anti-cancer agent,” Romo says. “That is, it is able to kill cancer cells, and we want to find out how useful it is in doing that.”

Since joining the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty in 1993, Romo has made an art out of cultivating, synthesizing and creating derivatives of natural compounds. His efforts to enable discovery at the chemistry-biology interface have been recognized by funding agencies and researchers the world over, as well as more recently by Texas A&M with a first-of-its-kind facility known as the Laboratory for Innovative Chemistry and Natural Products-Based Interdisciplinary Drug Discovery (LINCHPIN).

As novel as its name, LINCHPIN opened its doors in September 2010 in fulfillment of Romo’s long-term vision of a universal haven for all things natural-products research. Beyond experience, it is equipped with a plethora of specialized instrumentation necessary to perform chemical synthesis, derivatization methods, isolation and purification of bioactive natural products and related small molecules. Most importantly, LINCHPIN houses personnel with expertise in chemical synthesis and derivatization of natural products on microscale as well as isolation of natural products.

“It made sense to me that I had all of these collaborators who were interested in bioactive small molecules, including natural products, and that we had the expertise to manipulate these natural products and synthesize them if warranted,” Romo says.

“We were in an ideal situation to help these collaborators better understand what these small molecules were doing inside cells. I thought it would be nice to have a lab separate from my research group that basically utilizes our methods to prepare cellular probes from natural products and in this way more easily interact with these various collaborators.”

For the full story, go to http://www.science.tamu.edu/articles/906

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