Let’s Talk: Organic Chemistry!


What is organic chemistry?

Organic chemistry studies the structure, properties, and chemical reactions of molecules that contain carbon atoms. These molecules form the basis of life. Studying organic chemistry helps researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cancer. Organic chemists  identify, synthesize, and characterize molecules that could be used to treat, image, or diagnose cancer. Molecules for imaging can be designed to selectively collect at cancerous sites and to contain a fluorescent or radioactive segment that can be detected using current imaging techniques. They also perform chemical reactions to create synthetic versions of natural compounds that are hard to isolate from their natural source in high quantities, allowing these compounds to be used widely for treatment of cancer and other diseases. Therefore, organic chemistry plays a crucial role diagnosing and treating cancer.

What does it take to be an organic chemist?

Organic chemists often hold undergraduate or graduate degrees in organic chemistry. The work of an organic chemist takes place in laboratories where they design and perform chemical reactions to create new compounds that could be used to treat cancer. Small changes to molecules can cause drastic effects in the therapeutic and side effects of a drug, so large numbers of chemically similar molecules need to be synthesized and tested. Organic chemists often use computational chemistry programs to predict and analyze the physical and chemical properties of the compounds they synthesize, known as candidate compounds. These individuals often have interdisciplinary knowledge about physics and the life sciences.

Where is the field of organic chemistry heading?

In general, organic chemists are always trying to optimize chemical synthesis pathways in order to save money, materials, and reduce the use of environmentally-harmful chemicals. Additionally, the use of organometallic compounds (organic compounds that contain metal ions) has shown some promise as a chemotherapy agent. Although these compounds are very successful in treating cancer cells, they can be toxic to normal cells, causing many side effects. Future studies will likely focus on increasing their specificity for cancer cells and reducing toxicity for normal cells. In the future, with computers becoming increasingly powerful, chemistry labs will become more automated. Although researchers will always be required to design the synthetic reactions and troubleshoot errors, automation could help researchers analyze, synthesize, and characterize new organic compounds that could be used to treat cancer in a more timely manner.


Let’s Talk: Chemistry!