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Steven D. Townsend

steven townsend


Our research focuses on developing new tools to broaden our fundamental understanding of chemistry while addressing problems significant to human health. To achieve this objective, we divide our efforts between two broadly defined areas, bio- and glycoconjugate assembly and natural product total synthesis. Since our goal is to interface our synthetic efforts with issues of therapeutic application, we value interdisciplinary collaborations with biologists who aid in evaluation of the molecules we prepare. This approach, which is fostered by the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, is a critical aspect of our program.

I. Interfacing Glycobiology with Infectious Diseases

A primary objective of the Townsend lab is to design new antibacterial and antibiofilm agents based on novel mechanisms of action. Currently, all antibiotics used in the clinic function by one of a limited number of mechanisms (e.g. inhibition of protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, cell-wall synthesis, and RNA transcription). We search human milk and understudied plants for novel molecules to fight a variety of bacterial based pathogens.  Ideally, once a molecule is identified, we apply organic chemistry efforts to methodically optimize the scaffold. 

II. Natural Product Total Synthesis

Our total synthesis projects are designed to challenge the state-of-the-art in organic synthesis. We choose target molecules that are structurally unique such as cyclic peptides that incorporate unnatural amino acids and terpenes featuring C- and/or O-glycosylation. Moreover, each target we select has interesting, unstudied biological properties (e.g. anticancer, antibacterial, and immunosuppression). Ultimately, it is our goal to synthesize compounds that can be used as tools to answer greater biological questions or provide a starting point for the development of therapeutics.