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Marquis Scholar Ryan Evans ’05 (Mohrsville, Pa.) is developing a synthetic approach to a compound that may fight skin cancer and psoriasis through a yearlong, independent honors research project.

Retiferol is an analogue of vitamin D, which has applications in both medicine and biology and has been shown to have promising activity against psoriasis and basal cell carcinomas, the most common form of skin cancer. The compound is formed during a complex chemical process, and Evans is working on a new synthetic approach to its formation with the help of William Miles, associate professor of chemistry. The goal is to “stitch” together the parts of retiferol in a way that reduces the amount of steps needed to form the compound.

Miles has shared his research through a total of 50 academic journal articles and presentations at scientific meetings. The American Chemical Society awarded him a grant to continuehis work with students to develop synthetic forms of Vitamin D.

“There is very little precedent for the reaction we are developing, so we first need to look at a simpler model system that can be prepared in a more expeditious manner,” Miles says.

To do this, Evans is running experiments and setting up chemical reactions to determine whether the results work. He has completed the synthesis of two compounds needed to run the experiment, and his next step is starting the chemical reaction process.

“This is real research,” Miles says. “We may be abjectly despondent or deliriously happy in a few weeks.”

A biochemistry major, Evans already has published research in a scientific journal and was one of the few undergraduate students in the nation selected for a highly competitive fellowship at Siteman Cancer Center, a nationally recognized center for patient care and research based at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Only about 10 percent of applicants received the fellowship. He also won the competitive Organic Chemistry Scholarship from the Lehigh Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

Evans believes that Miles is a gifted synthetic chemist, and chose Miles as his adviser because of the in-class experience he had with him.

“He showed a lot of enthusiasm for his work,” he says. “On top of all his credentials, I am able to interact with him in a friendly, personable way, which was an important characteristic I considered when choosing an adviser.”

“Ryan is in charge [of this research],” says Miles. “It is as if he was a second-year graduate student; he has to do all of the work and I give advice.”

Evans says that he is learning a lot from him.

“Professor Miles is an amazing source of information on organic chemistry,” he says. “The most important thing I have gotten from this experience so far is to see the type of work and dedication it takes to do good research, and the mentality I will need in the future when tackling my own research problems.”

Evans, who is vice president of the student chapter of the American Chemical Society, says that he chose the thesis topic to gain experience in the field of synthetic organic chemistry. He plans to have a career in synthetic drug discovery or production.

“The technical lab skills, research experience, and organic chemistry I am learning in my thesis work will be a valued commodity for my future in this field,” he says.

Evans’ classes have included an interim-session course in London on theater. He is a member of the biology, physics, pottery, and volleyball clubs. He is also a member of Lafayette Environmental Awareness Protection, a peer tutor, and does environmental volunteer work through the Landis Community Outreach Center.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Evans receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

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