Northwestern scientists look to Nigeria for drug research

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

Inspired by traditional healing techniques used in Nigeria, Northwestern researchers synthesized new chemical compounds that might someday be used to treat people with psychiatric disorders.

The NU scientists synthesized two alkaloids, alstonine and serpentine, found in plants Nigerian healers have used to medicate people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Chemistry Prof. Karl Scheidt was the lead author of a paper on the study.

“After billions of years of evolution, nature has given us a great starting point for generating new types of molecules that could end up being used as innovative drugs,” Scheidt said in a news release. “We’ve learned how to make these natural products in the lab and can now evaluate what are the most effective parts of these natural products for potential therapies.”

Scheidt also teaches classes in pharmacology at the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Feinberg Prof. Herbert Meltzer, who has researched drug treatments for psychiatric disorders, also helped author the study.

“The synthesis of these alkaloids, which we have now just achieved, was exceedingly difficult,” Meltzer said in the release. “Karl Scheidt’s expertise in the synthesis of natural products was crucial to the success of this project and is the first step in getting a new drug ready for clinical trials.”

In animal trials, Scheidt has begun to study how these compounds affect brain function.

The paper was published in April in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

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