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A chemically creative approach to making medicines more efficiently

A chemically creative approach to making medicines more efficiently

This week’s Spotlight on Research is with Dr. Nessan Kerrigan, Lecturer at DCU School of Chemical Sciences.

What are you working on?

“I’m a chemist, and my research is mainly concerned with coming up with more efficient ways of making chemicals that are of interest as pharmaceutical drugs.”

How do you do that?

“It often takes several steps to make chemicals that work as drugs, and we look to make those reactions more efficient. We look at using different catalysts, which help to speed up the reactions, otherwise you might have molecules just looking at each other in a flask rather than reacting and getting you to the next step in the process of making the drug.”

What kind of impact could that have?

“We work on the types of chemical reactions that could help drug manufacturing. The hope would be that medicines could be made more efficiently and more cheaply, and that the whole process might use less energy and be more environmentally friendly. One of the types of molecules we are looking at is related to a drug used to treat glaucoma, and we are also looking at families of chemicals that have produced drugs for epilepsy and pain treatment. We want to use chemistry smartly to optimise how we can make those kinds of molecules.”

How did you come to work at DCU?

“I originally studied chemistry in University College Dublin, I did my PhD there and then I worked in the pharmaceutical industry before going to research in Scotland and the USA. In 2006, I went to Oakland University in Michigan and I worked there until I moved to DCU last year. I still have people working in my lab in the US, and I’m building up the lab here in Dublin. Where we are based here on campus in DCU will hopefully open up lots of new opportunities too. We are in the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology and working alongside people who are carrying out research into cancer. Hopefully some of the molecules we are working on will lead to collaborations there.”

What do you like about chemistry?

“I think it is the creativity. A lot of the joy comes from scribbling down ideas on paper and seeing where they lead. You also combine your own experience of what works (or not!) with what you read other people have done. So you think ‘I wonder will A plus B = D when you might have expected C’. In that way it is almost like art, or sometimes I like to think about it as building with bricks of Lego but not being limited to the instructions, you can come up with new and creative things.”

What do you do to take a break?

“I did a lot of running as a kid, and I was on the cross-country Under-17 All Ireland team, so I still like to run. Nowadays though, between injuries and having small kids, most of my running is in Park Runs at the weekend. It’s a great way to get a break and some exercise.”