Sulfate groups are crucial building blocks for many molecules but are difficult to handle. Dutch researcher Martijn Huibers has discovered how sulfate groups can be protected during the construction of a molecule. Thanks to his method new molecules, which could be used for the production of medicines, can now be constructed far more easily.
Many sulfate groups are difficult to construct in molecules. This is partly because the products often dissolve in water and are therefore difficult to handle. Huibers solved this problem by incorporating the sulfates ‘disguised' as so-called sulfite and sulfate diesters. These ensure that the sulfates remain protected during the construction process making them far easier to handle. The process is comparable to the construction of a house. During the construction you do not want to damage or break the windows and so you can protect them with wooden boards. Once the house has been completed, the boards can be removed. Just like wooden boards, the sulfite and sulfate diesters can be removed once the molecule has been constructed.
Huibers' method makes it far easier to construct organic molecules that contain sulfates. When sulfates are incorporated into molecules the yield can be very low, for example, about thirty percent; the rest is lost as a byproduct or during the purification process or it is destroyed. With Huibers' method the yield can frequently be increased to ninety percent or even more. Moreover, in theory his method makes it possible to incorporate sulfate molecules at any given moment and not only at the end of the construction process.
Huibers is applying his new method of sulfate protection to many different molecules, including a compound that is active in the nervous system. The method has proven to be highly effective for a wide variety of constructions. With his discovery, Huibers has provided people like drug developers with a new tool.
Huibers' research was partly funded by NWO-ACTS (Advanced Chemical Technology for Sustainability). He carried out his research within the ACTS programme IBOS (Integration of Biosynthesis and Organic Synthesis) which focuses on improving the efficiency of industrial synthesis processes.