March 3, 2007

UCF Scientists' Molecular Discovery Could Help Drugs Target Unhealthy Cells

University of Central Florida and University of California Riverside professors are a step closer to being able to deliver life-saving drugs through tiny molecules that would travel through the bloodstream and destroy only cancer-ridden cells.

In a paper published Jan. 18 in Science Express, the scientists describe how they got an adsorbate molecule (anthraquinone) to pick up two carbon dioxide atoms and carry them in a specific direction on a flat copper surface. Their discovery helps scientists understand how they someday may be able to attach therapeutic drugs to molecules.

"It's significant because we wouldn't expect atoms to move that way," said UCF physics professor Talat Rahman, who co-authored the study with Sergey Stolbov. "Atoms tend to move randomly, like dust particles, and getting them to move in a specific direction will help in our understanding and manipulating of the region around atoms."

It's what sci-fi fans have seen on television - nanotechnology that sends microscopic creatures to space or the body to make repairs. That sci-fi reality is years away, but this research is a step in that direction.

"Right now the only way we can transport atoms is with instruments," Rahman said. "Being able to control that at a molecular level would help us create a natural transportation system that could aid us in many ways in the future."

Next, the researchers want to see if they can make the molecule carrier go around corners, rotate its cargo or send out photons to let scientists know where it is located.

Rahman worked with Stolbov and UC Riverside Associate Chemistry Professor Ludwig Bartels. Bartels is also a member of the university's Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Rahman, who speaks four languages fluently, has a doctorate from the University of Rochester in New York. She began at UCF as the chair of the Physics Department in September 2006 after spending several years as a university distinguished professor at Kansas State University and previously as a research scientist at the University of California at Irvine.

Stolbov worked with Rahman at Kansas State and also arrived at UCF in 2006. He is a native of Rostov, Russia, and he earned his doctorate in physics in that country.

UC Riverside's Bartels described the chemical reaction as a molecule with two shopping bags, carrying atoms from place to place. Figuring out exactly how that works would allow anything to be put into those "shopping bags."

Bartels said the research is still in its infancy but compared the promise it holds to the evolution of cell phones during the past ten years.

"Ten years ago, a cell phone could just place calls, nothing else," he said. "Now it plays MP3 files, organizes your day and lets you send e-mails and browse the Web."

Conducted in the Bartels Lab, the research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Petroleum Research Fund and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The San Diego Supercomputer Center provided resources as well.

Rahman and Stolbov will continue their work here at UCF.

"UCF is an exciting place to be with lots of opportunities," Rahman said. "That why I came here to continue my work."



Talat Rahman, Physics professor and chair
Kris Lovekin, UC Riverside

Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
University of Central Florida

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