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Chiral metal surfaces may help to manufacture pharmaceuticals
Date:10/26/2011

New research shows how metal surfaces that lack mirror symmetry could provide a novel approach towards manufacturing pharmaceuticals.

These 'intrinsically chiral' metal surfaces offer potential new ways to control chiral chemistry, pointing to the intriguing possibility of using heterogeneous catalysis in drug synthesis. Such surfaces could also become the basis of new biosensor technologies.

A chiral object, such as your hand, is one that cannot be superposed on its mirror image. Chirality is fundamental in biochemistry. The building blocks of life - amino acids and sugars - are chiral molecules: their molecular structures can exist in either "left-handed" or "right-handed" forms (or "enantiomers").

A living organism may respond differently to the two enantiomers of a chiral substance. This is crucially important in the case of pharmaceutical drugs, where the therapeutic effect is often tied strongly to just one enantiomer of the drug molecule. Controlling chirality is therefore vital in pharmaceutical synthesis.

Research into controlling chiral synthesis focuses mainly on using homogeneous catalysts, where the catalyst is in the same phase as the reactants and products, such as a liquid added to a liquid-phase reaction. However, this poses significant practical challenges in recovering the valuable catalyst material from the mixture. To avoid this problem, an attractive alternative would be heterogeneous catalysis over a solid surface - the type of catalysis used in catalytic converters in car exhaust systems, as well as in industrial Haber-Bosch synthesis of ammonia and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of synthetic fuel, for example. The question then is how to achieve enantiomer-specific effects at a surface.

To help answer this question, scientists at the University of Cambridge have been probing the spontaneous self-organization of a simple chiral amino acid, alanine, into regular molecular arrays on copper sing
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Contact: Genevieve Maul
Genevieve.maul@admin.cam.ac.uk
44-012-237-65542
University of Cambridge
Source:Eurekalert

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