Purdue University President France A. Córdova (l) talks with Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi, Nobel laureate in chemistry, at his home in West Lafayette, Ind. Negishi is the Herbert C. Brown distinguished professor of chemistry at Purdue.
The 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to NIH grantee Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi of Purdue University. He shared the award with Dr. Richard F. Heck of the University of Delaware
and Dr. Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University,
Japan. The three were honored for developing
complementary methods to find more efficient ways of linking carbon atoms together to build complex molecules.
The scientists were recognized for developing “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis,” methods for making carbon-carbon bonds. Their achievements have given scientists
more precise, efficient and environmentally
friendly tools for creating a wide range of molecules used in the production of high-tech materials, agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals,
including the cancer drug Taxol and the asthma drug Singulair.
“The methodology developed by these stellar scientists has broad implications for the medical,
electronic and agricultural fields,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. “It has already allowed chemists to synthesize compounds to fight the herpes virus, HIV and colon cancer.”
Negishi has received more than $6.5 million in support from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences since 1979.
“Like the frame of a house, carbon-carbon bonds must be right for the structure to be functional and useful,” said Dr. Jeremy Berg, NIGMS director. “The powerful methods these scientists developed have provided a solid foundation
for building a wealth of molecules that have benefitted medicine and industry.”
The molecules that give penicillin its bacteria-killing properties, that give snakes their venom
and that give flowers their color are based on carbon-carbon bonds. To make molecules as complex and vast as those found in nature, scientists need to join carbon atoms together.
Each of the three scientists selected for the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry developed reactions that improved this chemical synthesis. By using the metal palladium as a catalyst, the scientists were able to bring two molecules very close together,
allowing them to couple, form a compound with a new carbon-carbon bond, release the product and be ready for another cycle.
Negishi, whose NIGMS grants have focused on the use of transition metals such as palladium to create synthetic reactions, discovered that compounds with carbon-
zinc bonds formed effective coupling partners. His method has been used in making natural products with therapeutic properties, including a toxin found in frog skin and an antiviral agent from marine sponges.