"Natural product chemistry" – a contradiction in terms? Not at all, because living cells also act as synthetic chemists. They produce chemical substances that they have developed in the course of evolution and optimized for specific tasks.
These natural substances are a rich source of new active ingredients in the fight against infectious diseases and cancer. In addition, the study of natural products is an instructive component of university training in analytical, synthetic, pharmaceutical and theoretical chemistry. Würzburg's natural product chemistry is particularly multifaceted, combining the search for potential new drugs from African lianas with the training of young African scientists.
Together with African colleagues, the research group of natural product chemist Gerhard Bringmann is looking for novel natural products from lianas. These are so-called naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids. These have chemically exciting molecular structures and are produced by plants via an exciting new synthetic pathway. Most importantly, they show promising activities against pathogens and, depending on the structure, also against tumor cells. The researchers extract these alkaloids from the plants, explore their molecular structure and test their pharmaceutical efficacy. And, if worthwhile, they synthetically reproduce their structure in the laboratory and specifically modify the structure to improve the desired effects and reduce side effects.
This work not only promotes basic research, but also holds out the hope of helping in the fight against terrible tropical diseases such as malaria or African sleeping sickness, but also against aggressive tumor diseases such as pancreatic cancer. In addition, the Africans involved in this research from Sudan, Kenya, South Africa and above all from the Democratic Republic of Congo are learning modern strategies, concepts and methods of natural product chemistry, which they can then later apply in their own countries. This is especially true for the Congolese students, who are supported by a worldwide unique excellence scholarship program, which also aims at the renewal of the Congolese universities.
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Gerhard Bringmann has been active in research and teaching at the University of Würzburg from 1987 to 2017 (Chair of Organic Chemistry I), then as a senior professor. In the field of natural product chemistry, he has initiated numerous collaborations, especially with African scientists, and has received honorary doctorates from four Congolese universities.