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Beer's bitter compounds could help brew new medicines

gether at all or it could be like placing a right hand into a left-handed glove. That could produce disastrous results in pharmaceuticals.

Kaminsky cited thalidomide, which has a number of safe uses but was famously used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s before it was discovered to cause birth defects. Molecule "handedness" in one form of the drug was responsible for the birth defects, while the orientation of molecules in another form did not appear to have the negative effects.

To determine the configuration of humulones formed in the brewing process, coauthors Jan Urban, Clinton Dahlberg and Brian Carroll of KinDex Therapeutics, a Seattle pharmaceutical firm that funded the research, recovered acids from the brewing process and purified them.

They converted the humulones to salt crystals and sent them to Kaminsky, who used X-ray crystallography a technique developed in the early 20th century to determine the exact configuration of the molecules.

"Now that we know which hand belongs to which molecule, we can determine which molecule goes to which bitterness taste in beer," Kaminsky said.

The authors point out that while "excessive beer consumption cannot be recommended to propagate good health, isolated humulones and their derivatives can be prescribed with documented health benefits."

Some of the compounds have been shown to affect specific illnesses, Kaminsky said, while some with a slight difference in the arrangement of carbon atoms have been ineffective.

The new research sets the stage for finding which of those humulones might be useful in new compounds to be used as medical treatments.

Contact: Vince Stricherz
University of Washington

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