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Transforming chemistry research to solve tomorrow’s challenges

Chemistry research is changing rapidly; a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences explains how his colleagues are seizing opportunities

Chemistry Prof. Dr. Leonid Voskressensky with colleagues in his lab at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University) in Moscow. (Photo courtesy of RUDN University)
Chemistry Prof. Dr. Leonid Voskressensky with colleagues in his lab at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University) in Moscow. (Photo courtesy of RUDN University)

The increasingly multidisciplinary nature of chemistry research poses new challenges for the world’s research community. Researchers need to gather information across an expanding spectrum of topics, collaborate outside their chosen fields, and stay up to date on a wider range of subjects than ever before.

Dr. Leonid Voskressensky, a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences, lays out how the People's Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University) — one of the leading state higher education institutions in Russia — is turning these challenges into opportunities, developing new labs and seizing on the opportunities presented by tools such as Reaxys, Reaxys Medicinal Chemistry and Pathway Studio to help researchers solve multidisciplinary tasks in chemistry, biology and pharmacology. Their strategy has resulted in the development of new research directions and an improved R&D workflow that includes the investigation of biological models of diseases in silico in order to search for perspective targets, the study of the biological activity of synthesized classes of compounds in silico in relation to all known targets, prediction of potential pharmacological activity of new compounds, repurpose or reposition drugs and synthesis of new substances against socially significant diseases.

New challenges and priorities in the ever-changing social environment require an entirely new way of organizing both educational and scientific processes. To meet the highest standards set by the world’s leading universities, institutions like People's Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University) must put our educational process on the research track.

In December, we officially opened four new chemical laboratories as part of RUDN University’s Research Institute of Chemistry. These laboratories were created under Russia’s Program for Competitiveness Enhancement of Leading Russian Universities among Global Research and Education Centers, known as Project 5-100, and are designed to take chemistry research at RUDN University to a whole new level.

RUDN University in Moscow.

Each laboratory is part of one of the Research Institute of Chemistry’s Scientific Centers, managed by world renowned scientists. The Scientific Centers cover a wide range of research areas – from fine organic synthesis to studying composite and ceramic materials’ properties. All laboratories are equipped with modern chemical equipment, such as NMR, IR and UV spectrometers, chromatographs, modern microwave ovens, and rotary evaporators, and have from six to eight powerful ventilation hoods. Each laboratory has 12 to 16 new workplaces.

We hope the ability to run new experiments will help RUDN University faculty and students achieve interesting and important scientific results in fields such as the chemistry of catalysis, chemistry of natural compounds and their synthetic analogues, pharmaceutical chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and nanomaterials chemistry.

Access to high-quality information is crucial

Prof. Voskressensky (center) with students at RUDN University (Photo courtesy of RUDN University)

In our daily workflow we use various sources of scientific information for our research activities. For the past couple of years, we have mostly been using online resources, such as Reaxys and SciFinder. We also widely use abstract and citation databases of peer-reviewed literature, such as Scopus and Web of Science, to solve scientometric tasks. RUDN University has access to a wide range of publications of the world’s leading publishers, including the American Chemical Society, Wiley, Elsevier and Springer. To help researchers get the most out of these resources, some of our master’s programs, such as Fundamental and Applied Chemistry, and Pharmaceuticals, have special courses on how to use various online resources for chemists effectively.

To support research efficiency, we use Reaxys and Reaxys Medicinal Chemistry. These platforms help us effectively solve various problems, ranging from finding synthesis routes of specific compounds, to identifying target proteins for biological screening.

Additionally, they provide a way of identifying collaborators from other parts of the scientific community. Recently, we used them to prepare and win two international grants from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. One of the projects is devoted to studying multicomponent reactions under catalysis with nanoscale catalysts. Multicomponent reactions (MCRs) in general and the reaction using isocyanides (MCRI) in particular are very convenient for preparing various polysubstituted structures, including peptidomimetics. MCRI is a highly efficient method for the combinatorial synthesis of compound libraries for biological screening, which allows to precisely control the variety of end products, while controlling “the matrix” of reactive chemicals used. Moreover, MCRI can be used with a large number of available reactive chemicals, which increases the “success rate” in the implementation of combinatorial synthetic approaches. All of these factors explain why such reactions are relevant and why there are so many publications on this topic. That all stemmed from using Reaxys to quickly analyze the existing publications, identify a group of scientists working in this area, and then select а specific collaborator for a grant application.

This research project is still in progress, but after a year’s work, we’ve received very interesting results, which hopefully will soon be published in leading journals. We have also gained valuable experience working with colleagues from another country.

Embracing the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of research will be the way forward for leading research institutions in chemistry and in other areas. With these new labs and tools in place, we will be looking at submitting applications for other grants, including those related to interdisciplinary fields of study. By embracing that collaboration, we will continue to work at the leading edge of chemistry research.

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