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Chemistry major Elizabeth Dethoff ’05 (Reading, Pa.) and biochemistry major Hannah Tuson ’06 (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.)are working together to develop Vitamin D analogues that have the benefits of calcitriol, a hormonally active form of Vitamin D, without the risks.

“As most people are aware, Vitamin D is very important in regulating calcium in the body,” explains William Miles, associate professor of chemistry. However, using calcitriol causes calcium levels in the blood to rise. This may lead to hypercalcemia, a potentially fatal disorder.

They are collaborating through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the 160 students who participate in EXCEL each year go on to share their research through academic journal articles or conference presentations.

Synthesizing calcitriol is a 12-step process that Miles started last summer with another student. He also worked with a student to synthesize Vitamin D, which is a 10-step process. This summer, his students are researching some of the critical steps of the synthesis processes.

“There exists numerous ways to make Vitamin D,” says Dethoff. “We are simply exploring a new way to get there. Some of it is new chemistry.”

“Most of the work that Hannah and Liz have been doing is on the seventh step of the synthesis, a critical step that gives the correct 3-D configuration at one of the carbon atoms,” Miles says. “This step is not only important for the synthesis of calcitriol, but it also will be of interest to chemists who are working on the syntheses of other important biomolecules.”

Dethoff says that they have discovered what solvents and catalysts work in during the seventh step. However, there are still multiple considerations left to study.

The students are also working on a second project with Miles involving a new compound he discovered that can be used to start the synthesis of furan, an organic compound. Miles has worked with the compound for 10 years, and uses it to develop the synthesis process.

“I think Lafayette is the best possible environment for projects like EXCEL because undergraduates don’t have to compete with graduate students for the chance to be intimately involved in the actual research,” Tuson says.

“We had to work closely in the beginning of the summer since the techniques used in the research lab are somewhat more advanced than the techniques they used in their classes,” Miles says. “But as the summer progresses, the students develop more independence.”

Miles has given over 20 presentations at scientific meetings, participated in a dozen research seminars, and had research published in about 30 academic journals. He is planning to submit his research on furan compounds to Journal of Organic Chemistry in the fall.

Miles has served as a reviewer for the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Organometallics, and several other journals since 1986. He received the 2001 Marquis Distinguished Teaching Award from Lafayette.

“I benefit from a highly talented pool of undergraduate students, healthy institutional support from the college, and newly renovated facilities,” Miles says. “It is a win-win situation for the students, the college, and me.”

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News