PhD Student O’Leary Receives NIH Award to Help Develop Synthetic Heparin
Tim O’Leary, a graduate student at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, has received a National Research Service (F31) Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The award provides $32,042 per year for three years to support O’Leary’s research, which aims to help develop synthetic versions of the popular anticoagulant heparin.
Natural heparin is extracted from animal tissues, a process that creates safety problems such as difficulties with quality control and the lack of a structurally homogeneous product. In 2008, more than eighty people died and hundreds of others suffered adverse reactions from a contaminated supply of heparin from China.
Synthetic heparin can address such concerns, but O’Leary says the molecule’s large size and complex structure make it difficult to chemically synthesize heparin. Professor Jian Liu, PhD, O’Leary’s adviser, has been working on a simpler way of creating synthetic heparin. His lab recently developed an enzyme-based method to synthesize fragments of heparin.
“My project will expand on this by chemically linking these fragments to construct full-size heparin mimics with well-defined structures,” O’Leary says. “By linking them in different combinations, I hope to find compounds with anticoagulant activity similar to that of natural heparin.”
O’Leary entered the School’s PhD in pharmaceutical sciences program in 2010. Before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, he earned a BS in chemistry from UNC Charlotte.