Category Archives: chemistry and everyday life

How are drugs designed?

How are drugs designed? Come on Friday 2nd May at 18:00 at the Athens Science Festival, Technopolis Gkazi to listen to my talk! See the detailed program of the festival here.

CADDThis talk will address how drugs are designed to combat a disease – from the discovery of the cause of the disease (e.g. a mutant protein), specialized techniques for the design of small chemical molecules (that are drugs), to clinical trials. We will also discuss advances and progresses in individualized treatment (also known as personalized medicine), i.e. how DNA testing could help each patient receive medication specifically tailored for them.

Πώς σχεδιάζονται τα φάρμακα; Ελάτε την Παρασκευή 2 Μαϊου στις 18:00 στο Athens Science Festival, Τεχνοπολις Γκάζι, να ακούσετε την ομιλία μου.

Η ομιλία έχει θέμα το πώς επιτελείται ο σχεδιασμός φαρμάκων για μία ασθένεια – από την ανακάλυψη του αιτίου που προκαλεί την ασθένεια (π.χ. μια μεταλλαγμένη πρωτεΐνη), εξειδικευμένες τεχνικές για το σχεδιασμό μικρών χημικών μορίων που αποτελούν τα φάρμακα, μεχρι και τις κλινικές δοκιμές. Επίσης θα συζητήσουμε τις προοπτικές και εξελίξεις στην εξατομικευμένη θεραπεία, το πώς δηλαδή με εξέταση DNA μπορεί ο κάθε ασθενής να λαμβάνει ένα φάρμακο που είναι ειδικά κατάλληλο για εκείνον.

Περισσότερες πληροφορίες και μία μικρή περίληψη για το θέμα θα βρείτε σε πρόσφατο άρθρο στην ιστοσελίδα της διοργάνωσης.

ASF ASF

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A Day in the Life of a Computational Chemist

As you know if you have been following this blog, I have always been fascinated by how the world around us works. Why is the sky blue? Why are bubbles in a soft drink spherical? How do we fall in love? What are we really made of?

This inherent curiosity led me to become a scientist. I studied Chemistry but soon enough I realized that being a chemist makes a huge mess or at least I made one in the lab! Fortunately, I then realized that computers exist and they make things much cleaner. I discovered that today it is possible to build chemicals, study reactions, or even make drugs within a desktop computer by performing virtual experiments in a similar way as the typical chemists. This type of chemistry is called “computational chemistry”. So I became a computational chemist. Indeed, I literally live in a virtual reality world, where everything from chemical reactions to drugs, food, materials, cosmetics, electronics, and prImageoteins is being modeled and simulated. And you won’t believe it, but, yes, I do have a job!

I am a group leader at the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens.  I specialize in “computer-aided drug design”, so the computer is my Virgil in the world of drugs (to paraphrase the original Nobel Committee tagline). The main activity of my lab is the design of anti-cancer candidate drugs. Recent advances in computer-aided drug design allow us to develop drugs specifically designed for a given protein, shortening the development cycle of new drugs.

Do you want to learn more about what it means to be a computational chemist and how I spend my day? For more details and a video on the life of a computational chemist, please read my full blog post at the Wiley Exchanges site.

Enjoy!

PS. My Doktorvater, Jeremy Smith, was also kind enough to link to this post in his own blog!

The Chemistry of Love

I was sitting in the lobby of my accountant’s office, flipping absentmindedly through a magazine when she walked in. I’ve never had a visceral reaction as when I saw her walk through that door. There was just something about her; I felt head over heels… My heart started racing and I had butterflies in my stomach…

This is the amazing time when you are truly love-struck. With an irresistible cocktail of chemicals, our brain entices us to fall in love. But is it really us or is it yet another nature’s trick to keep our species alive?

Scientists agree that there are three stages and processes in love:

Stage 1 – Attraction: Dopamine and Adrenaline

When you fall in love, your brain starts sending signals before you can even blink. Your heart races and palms sweat: adrenaline is getting released from neurons. Then, when you are close to your sweetheart, dopamine is released, which triggers euphoria and feelings of bliss, increased energy, increased energy, less need for sleep or food,  and focused attention on your new relationship. Phenylethylamine (PEA) is the chemical responsible for releasing adrenaline and dopamine. Biologically speaking, with the combination of dopamine, adrenaline, and PEA in your body, you’re experiencing something similar to a cocaine high. And it doesn’t matter whether you just met this *special* person or you ‘ve known them for ages; these love signals can be released at any time. Actually, no, not at any time. Only when mother nature thinks the timing is right** (see below).

Stage 2 – Lust: Testosterone kicks in

Testosterone

That is about the time that androgens and estrogens kick in. Estrogens and androgens are steroids, which are the female and male sex hormones, respectively. Testosterone is the sex hormone in both male and females, which is what gives us libido and sex drive. This hormone is elevated when we are in love. This makes sense as you’re most concerned about sex when it’s most likely to result in reproduction. Some people argue that this Stage precedes Stage 1, but it’s up to you to decide 🙂

Stage 3 – Attachment: Oxytocin, the love hormone

In the long run, two other hormones make their headway when emotionally involved: the “hormones of attachment”, oxytocin and vasopressin.

Oxytocin. Notice something? As we go down the love chain, the molecules appear more complex; sort of like love-life!

Oxytocin is a hormone stored in the brain. When the hormone is released in the brain, it results in feelings of attachment and bonding. It has been found that oxytocin gets released at orgasm, which is why couples feel much closer to one another after they have had sex. Oxytocin is also released at childbirth and is partly responsible for the strong bond between mum and baby (actually oxytocin has a Greek root: “οξυτοκίνη”, which means “quick birth”). So, if you feel the urge for a stay-at-home movie night to cuddle with your beau, it may be oxytocin at work.

Vasopressin is another important hormone when it comes to relationships.  Scientists studied the prairie vole, which is known to be monogamous and to express vasopressin like humans. When the researchers introduced vasopressin receptors to the “meadow vole”, the promiscuous cousin of the prairie vole, these playboys reformed their ways and fixated on one female, choosing to mate with only her – even when other females tried to tempt them!!

Wondering why some people find it hard to get emotionally involved or committed?

Some people might be less prone to form stable relationships because they might be not express as many “oxytocin or vasopressin receptors” (proteins that take up oxytocin or vasopressin) in their brains. Thus, some people are not that sensitive to the “commitment hormones” oxytocin and vasopressin. Experiments in animals showed that if you remove the oxytocin or vasopressin receptors, these animals cannot form strong bonds with each other any more.

**When do we fall in love?

Timing is important. The perfect partner can sit right next to you at a party, and you might not notice him or her if you’re too busy at work, enmeshed in another relationship, or otherwise preoccupied. But if you’ve just moved to a new city, recovered from an unsatisfying love affair, begun to make enough money to raise a family, are suffering through a difficult experience, or have a good deal of spare time, you are ripe to fall in love.

So love appears to all be yet another one of nature’s traits:

Romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your energy on just one person at a time, conserving time and energy. The sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for partners. Attachment, the feeling of security you can feel with a long-term partner, evolved to help you stay together long enough to raise kids.

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