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Study Seeks Ways to Carry Drugs Across Cell Membranes

Many potentially beneficial drug cures fail because they can’t cross cell membranes of bacteria, viruses or cancers.

Now, Michael P. Schramm, assistant professor of chemistry, along with undergraduate students Katie M. Feher and Hai Hoang, demonstrated in an article in the New Journal of Chemistry that they could embed a molecule inside a vase-shaped carrier molecule called a cavitand that they created, then successfully insert it into a cell membrane.

“Our goal in this project is to develop a synthetic receptor that could be put into a cell membrane that would selectively transport a molecule of our choosing,” Schramm said. Their work is funded by a three-year, $433,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute via the National Institute of General Medical Science’s Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) program.

One problem confounding pharmaceutical researchers is that cells are composed of a bilayer that’s part water loving and part fat [lipid] loving. “They assemble in a very specific way so that the oil-like parts stick together and the water-like parts stay together,” Schramm said.

Feher began a chemistry Ph.D. at New York University this fall and other undergraduate and master’s students and a post-doctoral associate are carrying on the research.