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Summertime Science: Synthesizing A New Antibiotic

Posted by on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 in 2018-2019 AY, Creative Campus Blog, Curb Scholars.

Summertime Science: Synthesizing A New Antibiotic


My name is Harrison Thomas, and I am a rising junior studying Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Chemistry.  This summer for my Curb Scholars Internship I am working in an organic chemistry synthesis lab in the Vanderbilt Chemistry Department.  My specific project is focused on synthesizing a new antibiotic to target drug-resistant bacteria.  The compound I am making was originally isolated in a natural setting but has yet to be produced synthetically in a laboratory setting, which would ultimately allow for mass production and use of this antibiotic.

Modern medicine is currently facing the alarming fact that there is a steady rise in multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in addition to a drastic decline in the development of new antibiotics to target these bacteria.  This trend threatens to impede many healthcare advancements and cutting-edge biomedical research, as simple hospital acquired infections are becoming increasingly lethal with no effective antibiotic treatments.  While the challenge is daunting, I am extremely excited to be working on creative solutions to the problem.  I find this research especially interesting because I have a passion for medicine and healing people, and for decades basic antibiotics have been the first line of defense to alleviate illnesses.  To now be making a brand-new medication that may soon become regularly prescribed by physicians is such a fascinating concept.

The actual procedure of synthesizing a new molecule is full of trial and error.  Sometimes experiments fail more often than they succeed, but that is all part of the journey.  So far, I have loved the problem-solving aspect of this research.  I find myself waking up early in the morning thinking about how to fix a certain problem or how to optimize a reaction.  In a way, the process is also like a puzzle, but in addition to putting all the pieces together just right, I also have to make all the pieces too, ensuring they are compatible.

Outside of research, I have enjoyed my spare time in Nashville exploring different parts of the city that I don’t normally get to see during the school year.  This has included going to farmers markets to try a variety of local produce and herbs to use in my cooking.  I have also been volunteering at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in the Inpatient Acute Care Unit and shadowing a neurosurgeon to further explore my interest in medicine.