Daniel Griffith '07 wanted to stand out as a Hamilton research student and hoped to work on not just one, but two different projects this summer. "This was my first real research experience," says Griffith, "and I was a little intimidated at the beginning of the summer." While straddling both projects, and faced with an almost overwhelming amount of work to accomplish, Griffith found help from two people also working in the chemistry lab: Frank Pickard '05 and Winslow Professor of Chemistry George Shields.
Griffith and Pickard worked together on an investigation of enediynes, potential anti-cancer agents that may eventually result in an anti-cancer drug. Griffith's other project involves him calculating reliable pKa values of phenols and organic acids that can be important in the process of designing medications. Shields is overseeing both projects.
Enediynes show promise for development into an anti-cancer drug because of their ability to cleave DNA and kill cancerous cells. Griffith and Pickard are using computational chemistry to model Esperimicin A1, a naturally occurring enediyne. However, if the molecule is used as it occurs in nature, Griffith says that the enediyne "would indiscriminately kill cells and the patient would probably die." Griffith is using computational chemistry to learn more about enediynes so that scientists may one day harness them to target only cancerous cells. "There is a small difference in the pH of healthy cells and cancerous cells," says Griffith, who hopes "it may be possible to exploit this difference."
For Griffith's second project he is testing phenols and organic acids with well-known pKa values and calculating them computationally in order to determine the efficiency of this method. He explains, "pKa is a measure of how acidic a molecule is." The ability to accurately calculate the pKa is important in designing drugs because "it gives us an idea of how a drug might act once it enters the body," says Griffith. His past research includes experiments with carboxylic acids, other phenols, and anilines.
Pickard and Professor Shields have both helped him in countless ways. "Frank has helped me out so that I didn't feel like everything is so far over my head," says Griffith, who also appreciates Pickard's sense of humor that made difficult days more bearable. Griffith is most impressed with Professor Shields' "commitment to getting his students' work published. It goes a long way towards brightening the future of aspiring scientists such as myself."
Dan Griffith is a rising sophomore from Sidney, New York who is majoring in biochemistry. Dan is also involved in WHCL 88.7 FM, the Hamilton College radio station, and is a member of the golf team.