My goal is to find new synthetic methods of modifying atoms to enable the synthesis of new pharmaceuticals and biologically active natural products.
Organic chemists at the Szpilman Lab at Ariel University are tackling the task of modifying combinations of atoms in an effort to synthesize medicines designed for a variety of applications, be it painkillers, antibacterial or anticancer drugs.
“One of the main principles of organic chemistry is the formation of carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bonds. Our goal is to find new methods of synthesizing small molecules or natural products aided by the understanding of the reactivity/reaction paths, which is not simple. It is a very complicated thinking process to unravel new modular strategies as one simple solution for accessing numerous pharmaceutically relevant small molecules,” says Dr. Atul More, who came to Ariel University from India on a three-year postdoctoral fellowship.
All medications are chemical compounds that contain a combination of molecules mainly made up of five different atoms: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur, derived from natural products, such as plants and animals or designed synthetically. “Here at Ariel University, we work on synthesizing those pharmaceutical important motifs using Umpolung chemistry – a principle of polarity reversal. We convert election rich species (nucleophiles, such as silyl enolates and vinyl azides) into electron-deficient species (to corresponding enolonium and azido enolonium species, respectively) by reacting with hypervalent iodine I(III) reagents, which enables other external nucleophiles to attack in situ, which apparently forms a nucleophile-nucleophile bond. This process is called Umpolung chemistry. ”
Atul, 32, comes from the Nasik District of North Maharashtra, one of India’s 29 states. He did his undergraduate work in Nasik and his master’s degree in Organic Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry, Pune University. He worked for a year in the Ranbaxy pharmaceutical industry (now Sun Pharma) in Delhi before returning to Pune to complete his Ph.D. with Dr. Chepuri V. Ramana at CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory. His Ph.D. work focused mainly on a total synthesis of natural products such Integrastatins, Xylarinol, and Allocolchicine. During that time, he contacted Dr. Alex M. Szpilman from the Department of Chemical Sciences at Ariel University, who offered him a postdoc position in a field of research very similar to Dr. More’s previous research. During the 8-month application process in 2016, Atul completed his Ph.D. thesis and worked for a short time at Sai Life Sciences Company in Pune.
Atul came to AU in November 2016 as a single man. Soon after his arrival, his personal life took a sharp turn. Back home in Maharashtra, where arranged marriages are still common practice, even among highly educated segments of society, Atul’s mother began searching for a wife for her son. She met with the mother of an acquaintance his (Anjali), and the two mothers agreed that they would make a good couple. “We both belong to the Hindu religion. I went back to India in April 2017 to become reacquainted with her, but now in a different way. We discussed our expectations and plans for the future. Everything seemed to match, so we agreed to marry. Our parents arranged the wedding within four months.” After the wedding in December 2017, Atul’s wife, Anjali, who has a Master’s degree in Physics, spent 10 months with him at AU. His mother, Mrs. Alka More, also visited for a month.
Looking back over his three years in Israel, Atul says it was a very nice experience. “The work culture is very good, and the weather is very nice – not too hot, not too cold. Ariel is really pleasant.” He resided in the dormitories on campus. “There are about 30-40 Indians at the university, about half of whom are studying chemistry. We have a nice routine: we work during the week, and on Thursday nights from about 10 pm to 2 am, when it’s not too hot, we organize cricket games.” He has done a lot of touring around Israel, some on his own or with friends, and some on trips organized by the university. “We usually visit Tel Aviv once a month, where we go to the beach, visit friends and shop at the Carmel Market. The Indian students at AU recently got together to celebrate Onam, the festival of the southern Indian state of Kerala.
It took Atul a bit of time to become accustomed to Israel, and still finds it a bit challenging to deal with the language barrier. His flight to Israel was his first ever, as well as his first experience outside of India. Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, he was a bit unnerved by all the armed security. He managed to deal with all the airport bureaucracy, but when it was time to hail a taxi, he mispronounced “Ariel”, and all the cab drivers told him they had never heard of such a place. Luckily, someone intervened and put him in a taxi to his destination.
Atul sums up his three years at Ariel University as very productive and pleasant. He will be heading back to India after receiving a very good offer from a pharmaceutical company in Bangalore (Karnataka), nearly a thousand kilometers from his home in Maharashtra.
Atul wishes to offer his help to anyone from Ariel University or Israel who is interested in coming to India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org