The chemistry of natural products: a French-Indian laboratory in health

Chemists from Rennes and India explore natural molecules for applications in health, and in particular, in fighting cancer and neurodegenerative disorders

Signature LIA NPSAH copyright UR1 dircom FOBE
  1. A long-standing collaboration
  2. Trigger neuron growth
  3. Trigger the death of cancer cells

The creation of an international associated laborartory, which was signed on 9 October 2017, is the continuation of a collaboration which has been underway for several years and aims to facilitate knowledge sharing for both the discovery of new bioactive molecules and for their optimisation by synthesis.

Research in new molecules for therapeutic purposes is a constant requirement in pharmaceutics. Chemists create them and phytochemists extract them from the natural environment, before observing how they work in adapted tests, for example on cancer cells or in the case of neuron degeneration, such as in Alzheimer's disease.

A long-standing collaboration

In order to bring together their skills in these fields, researchers from India and Rennes have signed an agreement, under the supervision of the CNRS, for the creation of a new international associated laboratory called Natural Products and Synthesis towards Affordable Health (NPSAH) which includes more than thirty researchers from the two countries. This international associated laboratory associates Université de Rennes 1, and more specifically the Institut des Sciences Chimiques in Rennes, with the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) in Hyderabad, one of the flagships of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) based in Hyderabad. This signature follows 8 years of collaboration through the international associated laboratory Joint Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry at Interfaces, which focused on organic synthesis and produced more than 50 high-level publications.
 

Dr René Grée and Professor Joël Boustie

Trigger neuron growth

This new international associated laboratory will pursue previous work on organic synthesis and the development of new vectors for drugs. However, it will be more focused on natural products. Researchers will share access to the chemical library based in Rennes, mostly made up of original molecules derived from lichens, and to the vast chemical library of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT). Dr René Grée, CNRS Director of Research (Emeritus) and Scientific Director for the new international associated laboratory, initiated the relationship with the Indian laboratory.

Research in this new international associated laboratory will focus on two themes (cancer and the central nervous system). The aim is to identify products, natural or not, which are capable of reactivating neuron growth.

"Compounds from lichens have shown good neurotrophic activity as a result of this partnership. They must be optimised, as others which were discovered in India have been. They are more advanced in the study of mechanisms of action and targets at a molecular level”, concluded Dr René Grée.

Trigger the death of cancer cells

The second theme concerns cancer cells, in which the balance is broken between proteins which lead to cell death (called pro-apoptotic proteins) and those which block it. The latter, which form the major part of a cancer cell, fix themselves onto the pro-apoptotic proteins and block their action. The goal is to find molecules which are capable of placing themselves between the two proteins to allow the pro-apoptotic proteins to free themselves and trigger the death of the sick cell.

Professor Joël Boustie, French director of the international associated laboratory, added: “Nature is an excellent provider of original structures, but natural resources are often only available in small quanitites, so synthesis allows us to obtain these products, or more active similar ones, in a more eco-responsible way.”

In this way, regarding these two subjects, amongst others, the researchers from the two Institutes will be able to draw on the various resources and share skills in organic chemistry or catalysis. They hope to identify new molecules, study their mecanisms but also synthesise them in order to allow them to be used on a wider scale.

Translation of an article published with Alice Vettoretti's (Plume & Sciences) contribution.