Nashville researcher receives national award

August 14, 2000

Discovers how free radicals attack molecules in the body

Washington D.C., August 15 -- Chemist Ned A. Porter of Franklin, Tenn., will be honored on August 22 by the world's largest scientific society for discovering how free radicals attack molecules in the body. He will receive the 2000 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its 220th national meeting in Washington, D.C.

Everyday events, such as exposure to sunlight and normal processes like respiration, can generate free radicals in the body, said Porter. Few molecules are immune to damage by these unstable, highly reactive compounds.

"So what I and my group do," continued the Vanderbilt University chemist, "is try to understand how these organic free radicals react with oxygen -- and how antioxidants like vitamins C and E can affect and even stop this reaction."

Compounds containing fats are particularly vulnerable. For example, researchers know free radicals attack low-density lipoprotein (LDL or so-called 'bad cholesterol'). Porter believes this process may be critical to the development of arterial plaque and thus heart attacks and strokes.

"This field has more or less been a black box for 25 years," he said. "I've been working on opening that box." He focuses on polyunsaturated fats since free radicals can achieve stability by plucking off one of their hydrogen atoms. Ironically, that leaves behind a new free radical: the now-unsatisfied carbon atom in the fat.

Porter has written what he calls a unifying mechanism, explaining how and why different types of products form when free radicals attack polyunsaturated fats. "We've shown that vitamin E slows this reaction, but also affects the kinds and amounts of products formed," he added. "The products formed without E can be more damaging."

He noted that "a lot of this research is just beginning to open up. We don't know yet what kind of disorders might be related to free radical reactions."

The ACS Board of Directors established the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1984 to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry. Cope was a celebrated chemist and former chairman of ACS. The award consists of $5,000, a certificate and a $40,000 unrestricted research grant.
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A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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