Brooklyn College chemistry professor Ryan Murelli was awarded a four-year, $1.54 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research, “Development and Exploitation of New Synthetic Strategies for Tropolones.”

This grant will help fund his work at Brooklyn College, which is aimed at developing new tools and knowledge that will help establish synthetic variants of molecules called tropolones as therapeutics for various diseases. Murelli and his team will focus their efforts on new ways to create the molecules, as well as improving existing strategies for creating tropolones.

“Synthetic organic chemists often compare ourselves to architects who develop new tools and then use them to construct buildings better and faster,” says Murelli. “In our case, our tools are chemical reactions used to build molecules that we find interesting.

“What drew us to tropolones was that there was a lot of novel and potentially valuable biological activity associated with them, but because they have historically been difficult to make, medicinal chemistry studies have been limited Over the last several years, we developed chemistry that works well at making lots of different types of tropolones quickly, and we have attracted a lot of interest from groups from around the world who have been interested and willing to study tropolones in a variety of different biomedical pursuits.”

Murelli points to his collaborations with several research groups at Saint Louis University School of Medicine as one example of the broad biomedical impact of their work. Researchers there have found that tropolone molecules made by his group show particular promise against the hepatitis B virus, the herpes simplex virus, and Cryptococcus neoformans, a pathogenic fungus that is responsible for almost as many AIDS-related deaths worldwide as tuberculosis.

Murelli, who has been at Brooklyn College since 2010 and holds the 2020 George and Beatrice Schwartzman Professorship in Chemistry was the principal investigator for this grant. Key collaborators are Brooklyn College chemistry Professor Emilio Gallicchio and Stuart Le Grice of the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, both of whom Murelli and his team have been working with for several years.

Funding will help support Murelli’s work with Gallicchio to develop computer simulations and models to help try to understand why certain tropolones are good for certain diseases. They are hoping to get these models to the point where they can predict how molecules will behave before they make and test them. Guiding these efforts will be work with the Le Grice lab, where they will refine these simulations in developing a tropolone-based antiviral strategy for the cancer-causing herpesvirus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus.

The grant will also help support the training and development of graduate and undergraduate synthetic organic chemistry students, something Murelli describes as his top priority.

“This award is particularly valuable when you consider the value of peer learning, which works best when you have a pipeline of student researchers at various points of their development. That way, the transfer of skills and knowledge is smooth,” says Murelli. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have an incredibly enthusiastic and talented group of students in my lab, both past and present, who have been committed to their own research and growth, and that of others as well. The success of my research and educational mission benefit from that culture, as does the department and the college. Funds from this grant will be instrumental in maintaining that momentum.”