April 10, 2012
Goldwater Scholar deciphers molecular communication to aid anti-cancer drug delivery
Like playing a blindfolded game of "3-D Tetris" with molecules, Kansas State University's 68th Barry M. Goldwater Scholar is feeling her way through supramolecular chemistry.
Angela Grommet, junior in chemistry, Wichita, would like to remove the metaphorical blindfold by researching how molecules bind to form complex structures known as supramolecules. The science gained popularity in 1987 when three chemists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in the field, however there is little documented knowledge on the variety of ways supramolecules synthesize.
"Just like there are different shaped Tetris pieces and different ways to stack them, there are different shaped molecules and different ways they can bind together," Grommet said. "In order for our metaphorical blindfold to be taken off, we must better understand and be able to predict the ways that molecules interact together instead of simply what they are like by themselves."
Congress established the Goldwater Scholarship in 1986 in honor of the former senator from Arizona. The scholarship is a national competition that provides up to $15,000 for two years of undergraduate study in math, science or engineering. More than 1,100 students from across the nation were nominated, and 282 students received the scholarship.
Kansas State University ranks first in the nation among all public schools in its total Goldwater scholars since the scholarship was first awarded in 1989. Overall, Kansas State University is tied with Duke University for third place in total scholars behind Princeton and Harvard.
Grommet is working with carboxylic acids and 2-aminopyrimidines, which are two classes of chemical compounds used in pharmaceuticals and in drug delivery devices. They can potentially aid drug delivery by forming 3-D molecular capsules to encase medicine, such as anti-cancer drugs, until they reach the site in the body where they are needed. This would make them less taxing on other parts of the human body.
"Unfortunately when two chemical compounds like a carboxylic acid and a 2-aminopyrimidine are introduced to one another, it is often very difficult to predict their structural outcome," Grommet said. "As a result, the design of pharmaceuticals and drug delivery devices relies heavily on trial and error."
Grommet is studying the structures with the goal of discovering a series of systematic rules that could be used to guide scientists in better predicting intermolecular interactions and reducing the time it takes to create supramolecules.
"I recently read a paper in which the authors were using 2-aminopyrimidines to break down bacteria resistance to antibiotics," Grommet said. "If they would have known how 2-aminopyrimidines should behave, the experimenters could have picked out and tested only the molecules that would be potentially successful. Perhaps they could have had a 50 percent success rate instead of a 13.5 percent success rate. This certainly would have been a lot less work."
Grommet entered the university as a chemical engineering major, but she changed her major to chemistry after a discussion with Christer Aakeroy, her current research adviser and professor of chemistry. She is interested in obtaining her doctorate and continuing her research as a chemistry professor at a research university like Kansas State.
"Angela's work may allow the pharmaceutical industry to bring a larger number of beneficial drugs from the laboratory to the patient," Aakeroy said. "In addition, it is possible that some existing drugs can be made more efficient or be employed in different forms such as inhalers or in transdermal patches.
Grommet and Aakeroy recently published research results involving diclofenac -- a painkiller used to relieve rheumatoid arthritis -- in Pharmaceutics, an international peer-reviewed journal published by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.
Since August, Grommet has worked as a laboratory-teaching assistant for organic chemistry. She is a member of the university chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemical fraternity and Phi Eta Sigma national honor society. She has received a Putnam scholarship and a Johnson Cancer Research Center research award. In spring 2011, Grommet presented a poster at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, Calif., and in fall 2011, she gave a talk at the regional meeting of the American Chemical Society in St. Louis.
"Angela is very bright with an excellent work ethic and a natural curiosity about how the world really works," Aakeroy said. "Her enthusiasm, generous personality and diverse interests -- ranging from chemistry and physics to English literature -- make her an excellent ambassador for Kansas State University and a very deserving Goldwater Scholar."
Grommet is minoring is physics and English literature. Apart from school and research, her hobbies include bird watching, gardening, hosting tea parties, baking and playing the piano. A graduate of Andover High School, she is the daughter of Gary and Anne Grommet, Wichita.