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Source: University of Otago

Over four weeks the 29 students in the CHEM 305 class have synthesised new compounds which are benzoxazole amide derivatives.
Otago Chemistry students are part of a global programme that develops lifesaving medicines for people with neglected diseases. This year they worked on a project looking at a parasite called Leishmania infantum which is lethal if untreated.
The Open Synthesis Network project is led by the Geneva-based, non-profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi). There are 25 universities collaborating in the Open Synthesis Network that has a focus on curing diseases that are prevalent among the world’s poorest populations. Since 2003 DNDi has developed eight treatments for five deadly diseases, saving millions of lives.
“The medicines for these diseases are often neglected because they are unprofitable and so fall to the wayside. Chemistry and biochemistry are often about competition so it’s cool to be part of a cooperative,” Student Scott Faville says.
Over four weeks the 29 students in the CHEM 305 class have synthesised new compounds which are benzoxazole amide derivatives.
“Students sign away any intellectual property claim, and all the information is open source so we can all work on the problem at the same time, which significantly speeds up the process. A series of compounds can make different drugs. DNDi has found a compound that may work and so we’ve changed different parts of this, to investigate how it works and other aspects. We got to use a whole lot of techniques. One synthesis we did was really funky and created crystals,” student Steph Mattison says.

“It really gave me an idea of what research would be like at postgraduate level. Not settling for what results you got but how you’d do it next time, getting better not settling.”

The compounds will be tested for antiparasitic activity at the University of Antwerp.
10 of the 12 novel compounds they aimed to synthesise and purify as a class will be sent away for testing. Senior Lecturer in Chemistry Dr Vernall signed the class up to the potentially lifesaving project. She was inspired by a question in DNDi’s recruitment material that asked, ‘are you sick of undergraduate students making aspirin and throwing it away?’ She says it’s great to see students making something for a reason. The project is flexible and offers a range of options for products so she could tailor it to be relevant to her student’s learning.
Student Hajie Tamorite said it was great to be doing something new at undergraduate level.
“We would sometimes look to Andrea and ask her ‘is this normal?’ and she wouldn’t know either. We had to do a lot more thinking for ourselves. It really gave me an idea of what research would be like at postgraduate level. Not settling for what results you got but how you’d do it next time, getting better not settling.”
Discovery Open Innovation Leader for DNDi Dr Perry says global collaboration is at the heart of the DNDi model.
“The participation of the students and team at University of Otago in the Open Synthesis Network is an excellent example of how we can use this model to bring positive impact to all involved. We are building awareness on neglected disease, educating students about real-world application of science, and pushing our discovery projects closer towards new, life-saving treatments to the most neglected patients.”

MIL OSI