by Elizabeth Brei, Daily Vidette Senior Staff
The National Science Foundation has awarded Tim Lash, distinguished professor of organic chemistry, with a three-year grant of $300,000.
Lash has a degree from the University of Exeter, and earned his doctorate from the University of Wales, College of Cardiff.
He has been awarded seven NSF doctorates over the course of his career.
Lash’s study of focus is porphyrins, which are a pigment found in nature.
For example, heme, a specific kind of porphyrin, is part of the protein hemoglobin, which allows oxygen to be transported in blood and makes blood red.
“Porphyrins are found in a number of proteins in the body,” Lash explained. “Enzymes, [which are the catalysts that make chemistry work in your body], contain porphyrins. They’re responsible for a number of important biological processes in the body.”
Another example of porphyrins found in nature are chlorins VI, which is a part of the structure of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is responsible for turning plants green.
“Chlorophylls are involved in photosynthesis, which is the act of harvesting energy from sunlight,” Lash explained. “Without photosynthesis, life on earth would not exist.”
“If you think about it, as a child, the most vivid colors we would know are blood, and the colors found in nature, green and the like,” he said.
“If you think about it, porphyrins are something you notice.”
Lash’s research involves changing the arrangement of the molecules instead of porphyrins, thus changing the stability, as well as the possibilities of what they can be used for.
One possible use involves nanotechnology used in chemotherapy. The porphyrins involved will allow the treatment to focus just on malignant cells, and therefore not harm healthy ones as chemotherapy does now.
“What happens is, we have something that absorbs light, and we call that a photosensitizer,” Lash said.
“It reacts with oxygen, and creates singlet oxygen, which is very toxic, and so reactive, it can’t go anywhere, so it only damages the malignant cells that it is in, and does not hurt the healthy ones, unlike current chemotherapy, which is devastating to the human body.”
Porphyrins are also found in petroleum.
“There are different kinds of petroleum,” Lash explained. “We might be able to identify where it came from.”
Lash said that this award means a great deal to him, both professionally and personally. In 2010, Lash was diagnosed with late-stage oral cancer. His jaw was surgically reconstructed, which has affected his speech.
“I was very, very sick,” he explained. “It took me the best part of a year to recover from it. But in the year since I’ve recovered, I’ve stayed very active … The grant is important to me on a personal level because it’s not just about being successful. It’s about staying relevant.”