Did you know that molecules twist? Certain drugs and supplements indicate which way the molecules in the product twist, with an L or a D before the names, indicating either a twist clockwise or counterclockwise. There is usually a specific kind of twist the human body wants depending on the case.
Though what happens when a wrong turn is taken, and the mirror-image of the molecule is formed instead? This area of science is called stereochemistry and it’s a lot more important than you might think. Molecules that are structured in the opposite confirmation can actually result in wildly different outcomes in the body.
Scientists creating new drugs have to bear this in mind, making sure a drug contains all the same directions of twists, otherwise grim consequences can occur. This is what happened with the famous case of thalidomide: the drug treated morning sickness in pregnant women in one twist and harmed the fetuses in the other.
Researchers have learned a lesson from this tragedy and now run safety checks to ensure drugs are in the correct orientation. This step of drug discovery is essential though extremely expensive.
A paper, published in Nature Photonics, has described a new method that can quickly recognize molecules with the wrong twists using infrared light. This technique will make drug discovery and safety testing easier, less expensive, and quicker.
“If the twist of the molecule is wrong, if the twist in the way the molecules pack together is not right, or if different materials were mixed in, all of that could be inferred from the spectra,” explains Nicholas Kotov, co-author of the paper from the University of Michigan.
The applications of their discovery don’t stop there. This infrared technology may be able to diagnose the presence of kidney stones, plaque aggregations in Alzheimer’s disease, manipulate large molecule assemblies for drug synthesis, check the quality of insulin, and help treat disease-causing nanofibres.
Source study: Nature Photonics – Chiral phonons in microcrystals and nanofibrils of biomolecules