Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products Research

Research Interests: Nature provides us with a tremendous variety of small molecules that possess fascinating structure and potent medicinal properties.  Inspired by amphiphilic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), we are exploring the development of novel disinfectant compounds to combat antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens. Our other research theme focuses more directly on on chemical ecology and natural products, working to identify bioactive natural products that are associated with amphibian or plant self-defense, as well as unique functions of reptiles.

Medicinal Chemistry Project:  Bacteria are developing resistance at a rate faster than new antibiotics are coming to market.  We are developing novel multicationic disinfectants based on nitrogen and phosphorus backbones (multiQACs and multiQPCs, respectively) to more efficiently disrupt cell membranes and lyse bacteria. Since 2014, we have collaborated on 36 publications (list) and 4 patents with Dr. Bill Wuest at Emory University. We continue to learn what cationic amphiphilic structures are most effective at inhibiting bacterial growth, especially resistant bacteria and bacteria in the biofilm state.

Natural Product Isolation Projects:  Globally, amphibians face one of the largest extinction rates in the animal kingdom. Although habitat destruction is a major cause of amphibian extinctions, infection from the fungal pathogens Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) are large contributors.  Our group is working in collaboration with multiple ecologists, including Dr. Doug Woodhams at UMass-Boston, to examine bacterially-produced natural products endemic to the skins of frogs, salamanders, and toads that may confer protection against this chytrid fungus.  We have also worked with botanists with Drs. Tanya Livshultz (Drexel University) and Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann (University of Bayreuth) to investigate pyrollizidine alkaloids and phenanthroindolizidine alkaloids, common toxins found in milkweed plants.