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Development of New Useful Substances Producible from Chemical Reactions of Organic Compounds

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The Takao Laboratory of Keio University's Faculty of Science and Technology Department of Applied Chemistry is engaged in the research and development of artificially creating various organic compounds extracted from natural sources.

Q. "As its name implies, natural products are organic compounds found in nature, but I don't mean seaweed like wakame or kombu. People have been discovering substances useful to humankind from nature such as those used in many medications. We are using chemical reactions to synthesize compounds also beneficial to people without relying on living organisms. Another research theme as one of our two main areas of research is the development of synthesis reactions."

The Takao Laboratory is conducting research in two main areas with the goal of producing new organic compounds useful to people. One is "research on synthesis of natural products" in which an inexpensive starting substance is chemically converted into compounds useful to living beings, and the other is "development of new organic synthesis reactions" in which chemical reactions of organic compounds are elicited by various conditions. Included in this research are skeletal transformation reactions and efficient catalyst reactions.

Q. "The skeleton of organic compound is made of carbon, and for example there are square four-membered rings, namely cyclobutane rings. By using a metal catalyst, the cyclobutane can be changed into what is called cyclopentane. We have been successful in developing chemical reactions that transform skeletal structures. During this process, a catalytic reaction is one in which just a small amount of metal and organic catalyst are used in such reactions and the catalyst spins round and round. We are also working to have this result in skeletal transformation."

The Takao Laboratory also conducts research on antitumor and antibacterial substances found in nature.

Q. "Naturally occurring microbes are not producing things with the intention of curing cancer in humans, but the result is that they are producing compounds that destroy cancer cells. As for current drugs, it is not as if humans have completely defeated cancer. Through the efforts of people to date, various anticancer drugs have been developed, but I think it's still not nearly enough. I think that synthetic organic chemistry is needed after all to develop scientists who will create new drugs that cure human disease."

Through numerous experiments, the Takao Laboratory is overcoming one barrier after another to enable total synthesis of new compounds useful against diseases resistant to treatment.

Q. "We use the terms 'new compounds' and 'useful substances' in regard to what we are targeting as set phrases, but as to whether they are useful or not, to be honest I don't know. They are simply new. However, there may come a time some years later, maybe 50 years from now, when this compound is absolutely essential to people. It is for just such a time that we want to test the power of science to show that new compounds can also be created."

Q. "As for drugs that are effective in treating cancer or Alzheimer's, there are aspects of their structure that we already know. To make them more efficient will require more efficient chemical reactions. So we always carry the hope that the reactions we are developing will be used in applications such as these."
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