A Utah State University student’s recent research could eventually result in ending side effects of diabetes.
Ryker Hacking, a junior with plans to obtain a master’s degree in chemical engineering, was able to synthesize a recently discovered molecule called methoxy biphenyl triol, or MBT, in a lab. MBT has the ability to prevent aldose reductase, an enzyme that can cause nervous system and red blood cell damage, as well as kidney and retina problems.
“It was so rewarding to feel like I was doing something that mattered, running reactions and solving problems with chemistry to get the effect you want and just seeing how that knowledge and problem-solving could potentially help people’s lives down the road,” Hacking said.
Hacking emphasized that he did not discover MBT; other research groups can take credit for that. What Hacking did was an example of natural product chemistry — the science of taking molecules with medicinal properties that can only be found in tiny amounts in nature and making more of them through chemical reactions.
Michael Christiansen, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry who was Hacking’s mentor for the project, wrote in an email to The Herald Journal that exactly how Hacking synthesized MBT is complicated.
“Suffice it to say that organic chemistry is the field of science that allows us to assemble molecules, one step at a time, much like putting Legos together,” Christiansen wrote.
Christiansen explained it was a course assignment that eventually led him to work with Hacking.
“As part of a class I redesigned for my second-year organic chemistry students, I assigned my students to … find their own molecules of interest and to then design a way of making those molecules in the lab,” Christiansen wrote.
Christiansen was instrumental to Hacking throughout the eight-week summer internship at USU’s Uintah Basin campus in Vernal, during which the USU student synthesized MBT.
“I trained him in all lab, analytical, and organic-synthetic research techniques needed for the project,” Christiansen wrote. “This took about five weeks of close supervision and hands-on training. Ryker spent the remaining time carrying out the day-to-day research under my direction, but with minimal hands-on supervision from me.”
Hacking said his research in the lab led him to figure out how to produce MBT “on an industrial scale.”
“Potentially … we can patent it and sell it to a company, and they could mass produce it and sell it to regular people,” he said.
But getting Hacking’s findings will require additional research, extensive analysis and clinical trials, Christiansen said.
“Total pharmaceutical costs for this kind of work, taken from initial development to marketable medicine, is usually around $1 (billion) per drug and takes a minimum of 10 years’ time,” he wrote.
For now, Christiansen intends to scale up the MBT synthesis from milligram to gram scale and send some of it to the National Institutes of Health for analysis.
“Depending on the results, we can then decide what to do from there,” he wrote.
While Hacking is proud of the research he has done, he knows he will not be able to see the next phases of it.
“So I feel like I am a link in a chain,” he said.