Jointly awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their pioneering work on click chemistry are Danish scientist Morten Meldal (University of Copenhagen) and American scientists K. Barry Sharpless (Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif.) and Carolyn R. Bertozzi (Stanford University).
Click chemistry, in a nutshell, pertains to groups of chemical reactions that are versatile, fast, and simple, with high product yields that are easy to purify. Click chemistry is referred to as similar to Lego, where the blocks, or in this case, the molecules, efficiently snap in place to create a variety of complex ones.
The Evolution And Progress of Click Chemistry
Sharpless, now a two-time Nobel Prize awardee, first used click chemistry over two decades ago to describe how molecules are quickly bundled together as building blocks, a concept that he and Meldal were working on separately. At that time, the covalent copper bonds used to catalyze reactions that bind molecules together were toxic in large amounts, so early discoveries didn’t have much use in the medical field.
According to Sharpless, bundling groups of molecules with something similar to a chemical belt will speed up the creation of far more complex products. Meldal pioneered with groups of molecules that specifically ‘snapped together’ only with each other leading to their use in polymers and medicine. Simply put, it’s similar to putting together prepared structural units that had to fit just so, with no room for error–-like putting together modular, mass-produced IKEA furniture.
Building on this idea, Bertozzi introduced bioorthogonal chemistry, another field, in 2003. This time, non-copper bonds were used in the process that introduced molecules into the cell of a living organism without harming it or disrupting the processes within its system.
The impact of click and bioorthogonal chemistry in medicine, drug development, and materials research has grown in importance. Existing click chemistry products using Polyethylene glycol (PEG) in a PEGylation process include biologics, nanoparticles, and other products used for drug delivery, regenerative medicine, and other fields.
Implications Of Click Chemistry In Medicine And Therapeutics
For Bertozzi, the goal is to introduce drugs safely into the human cell without affecting others–something that click chemistry made possible because of its specificity. Click chemistry is used in polymer therapeutics encompassing polymer drugs and non-viral vectors. These applications are either commercialized or in clinical studies:
- As a bioactive drug component to treating diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and solid tumors are two diseases that respond well to these drugs.
- Non-viral gene therapy
- Adding polymers to therapeutic proteins and peptides reduces the immune response and increases availability, Custom synthesis services make PEGylations like this available for cancer therapy. Some distinct advantages of PEGylated drugs or proteins used for cancer therapy are their capacity for being nano-sized with longer degradation so that they can stay active longer without losing quality.
- Delivery of imaging agents for tagging or radiolabelling, diagnostic agents, and drugs
- Tracking of viral spread
- Cell engineering that modifies living cells for transplantation
- Discovery of a new therapy for HIV
Implications Of Click Chemistry In Industry
Click chemistry is a tool that can precisely fashion complex molecules with many applications. It’s attractive compared with other processes in the polymer industry because it doesn’t rely on petroleum-based products. Aside from broad applications and high yield, click chemistry reactions are simple, scalable, and mild in nature, with non-toxic byproducts.
In the manufacturing process, click chemistry is used to synthesize and modify polymers and materials. Applications include 3D printing on isoprene rubber. On surfaces, click chemistry optimizes materials by reducing bubble production and other irregularities that could mar the appearance of newly created materials that should stay firm and retain their shape after heat-setting or curing.
Click chemistry is used as an environmentally friendly agent for water-proof coatings or adhesives. Hardness, water resistance, and strength improved when used on polyurethane and other materials. This makes it a viable, greener, and cheaper alternative to commercial and purely synthetic hardeners.
Aside from heat treatment, click chemistry is also used for ceramics using light treatment. The ceramic produced is stronger, harder, smoother, and denser than traditional ceramics.
Click chemistry is also used to manufacture chips, biosensors, and immunosensors. An example would be copper detection for the purpose of diagnosis.
Click chemistry is revolutionary because it provides a strong foundation for making difficult processes easier and less toxic. With the impact of click chemistry on medicine, diagnostics, and industry, the Nobel Prize for the 2022 awardees Morten Meldal, K. Barry Sharpless and Carolyn R. Bertozzi is richly deserved.