DATE:  June 24, 2005
CONTACT: Dr. Eugene Billiot, Assistant Professor in the College of Science and Technology, (361) 825-2680; Steve Paschal, Public Affairs, (361) 825-2336 

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Assistant Professor Awarded Five-Year Grant from National Science Foundation

Separation of Chiral Drug Molecules Could Eliminate Dangerous Side Effects

Dr. Eugene Billiot, an assistant professor in the College of Science and Technology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, has been awarded a five-year $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Program to fund his research toward understanding chiral interactions for separation of pharmaceutical drugs.

Chiral or asymmetrical molecules are mirror images of one another that cannot be imposed one over the other. Billiot likens the process to a hand shake where two right hands bond together but a right and a left hand are unable to unite. By distinguishing between and separating asymmetrical compounds, pharmaceutical companies will be able to sell pure forms of medications and eliminate potentially-dangerous side effects

 “Developing ways to separate compounds can help us avoid the mistakes of the past,” said Billiot. “In the 1950s, it was common for women in Europe and Japan to take Thalidomide for depression and morning sickness. Unfortunately, it was found to cause birth defects. By separating compounds and selling only the pure form of a medication, these kinds of tragedies can be averted.”

Billiot’s research will be the investigation of a series of novel “branched” amino acid-based polymeric surfactants, commonly known as soap. Molecular modeling will be employed to develop models that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of new materials to understand how and where chiral separation takes place.

“Amino acid based aggregates of soap molecules will be designed, synthesized and then tested for the separation of compounds (capillary electrophoresis),” explained Billiot. “This work will provide a basis for understanding the factors responsible for recognition of chiral molecules for the separation of pharmaceutical compounds.”

In addition, the research program will address the educational objective of increasing the number of underrepresented and economically challenged students pursuing careers in science.

“This goal will be accomplished,” Billiot said, “through early involvement of undergraduates in scientific research, participating in community outreach to the Coastal Bend’s K-12 schools, and faculty development through a series of seminars and workshops designed to help new faculty become more effective teachers, researchers and mentors.”

The primary goal of Dr. Billiot’s research is to develop a strong research program linked with the students’ educational experience that will investigate and make clear the factors responsible for chiral recognition of asymmetrical molecules.

The NSF funds research and education in most areas of science. The Faculty Early Career Program was created to provide an innovative, interdisciplinary attack in important areas of basic research. Dr. Billiot received a B.S. in Chemistry from Nichols State University in 1992 and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Louisiana State University in 1998.  His area of expertise includes analytical chemistry, as well as more than 15 years of experience with chiral separators.