Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and RIKEN, Wakoshi Campus, Japan, have developed a method to separate chiral enantiomers – chemicals that have the same molecular formula but a different three-dimensional arrangement of the constituent molecular segments. The separation of enantiomers is important in the biomedical field because many biochemically active chemicals are found as mixtures of two enantiomers, one of which may be beneficial and the other toxic.
The group of researchers is led by Prof. A. S. Achalkumar, Department of Chemistry, IIT Guwahati, and Prof. Yasuhiro Ishida from RIKEN, Wakoshi Campus, Japan. Their path-breaking work has recently been published in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications. The paper has been co-authored by Prof. Achalkumar, Prof. Ishida, Dr. Vakayil Praveen, Senior Scientist, CSIR-National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology and research scholars Dr. Krishnachary Salikolimi, Kuniyo Yamada, and Dr. Noriko Horimoto.
Prof. Achalkumar explains the importance of this work by reminding us of a tragic event that shook the world in the 1960s, when, a large number of babies were born with severe deformities because the mother was prescribed a drug called ‘thalidomide’ for morning-sickness. The researcher said: “The problem was a result of the consumption of two enantiomers without separation. One of the isomers was toxic, while the other was the drug.”
The Lead researcher from Guwahati said: “Nature is master in the exclusive production of enantiomerically pure amino acids and sugars, but man is still trying to master the art of enantioselective synthesis.” The current method to separate enantiomers is by chromatography, which is slow, energy-intensive, and requires environmentally harmful solvents.
Prof. Ishida added: “Development of such process may help in reducing the price of chiral active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finally that of the medical treatment, itself. In addition, such a process can be extended to other classes of chiral molecules.”