Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Dec. 12, 1997

Scientists study virus killer

by Skip Derra

A team of chemists from ISU and the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y., has made progress in determining how hypericin, a chemical found in the herbal remedy St. John's wort, kills viruses and cancer cells when exposed to light. The results were published in the Dec. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The research shows that when light strikes hypericin, it triggers a chemical reaction. The discovery raises the possibility that hypericin, and similar light-activated molecules, could be used to treat AIDS, hepatitis, brain tumors and other diseases.

Hypericin's disease-fighting properties now are being evaluated in clinical trials. Iowa State chemists are developing the "molecular flashlight," a method of turning on disease-fighting characteristics of certain compounds once they are inside the body.

ISU team members are graduate student Doug English, associate professor of chemistry Jacob Petrich, postdoctoral fellow Kaustav Das and scientists Kyle Ashby and Jaehun Park. They are joined by chemist Edward Castner of Brookhaven.

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