News

Davidson Chemist and Student Researchers Develop Approach to Inhibit Spread of Viruses

by Robert Abare '13
Nicole L. Snyder
Professor Snyder and Research Assistant Joyelle Newton ’15 employ the state-of-the-art CombiFlash automated chromatography system at right to separate compounds.

Thanks to the research of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole L. Snyder, antiviral drugs may soon better prevent the spread of viruses like influenza.

Snyder recently presented a poster of her research group's project, "Synthesis of Carbopeptoid-based Therapeutics for the Treatment of Influenza" at the Gordon Research Conference on Carbohydrates. The project, which involved three student researchers, created a series of carbohydrate compounds designed to inhibit viral hemagglutinin, a protein used by the influenza virus to enter and infect human cells.

Snyder explained that the project was inspired by a previous study that created large, round particles of gold that were moderately successful at binding to, and thus inhibiting, hemagglutinin. Snyder's group expanded on this study to develop a more "flexible" system that would potentially allow carbohydrates to bind more easily to hemagglutinin and prevent it from binding to human cells.

"This carbohydrate binding process slows down influenza so that your body's own immune system can help get rid of the virus," Snyder explained.

Student-centered approach

Snyder's project also garnered attention at the research conference for the way she successfully included undergraduate students in the research. Members of the American Chemical Society's Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry, some of whom were present at the conference, decided to feature Snyder and her students in the Divisions fall 2013 newsletter column "Meet the Glycoscientist."

"The Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry wanted to highlight our group as an example of a successful undergraduate glycoscience group, with the goal of encouraging other glycoscientists to include young scientists in their research programs," Snyder explained. "The feature on our work will also help connect me and my students with researchers at larger institutions."

Snyder explained that glycoscience research of this caliber is not normally attempted at undergraduate-specific institutions like Davidson, and only a handful of undergraduate glycoscience groups exist across the United States. She said, "In most settings, the individuals who do this type of work have a continuous stream of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to move the project forward. We were able to show the community that we could still do meaningful and cutting edge research at a smaller institution like Davidson."

The Small Piece Approach

Snyder achieved the work by dividing the project into pieces that could be completed by individual students in a reasonable time frame. "We are addressing big problems in small pieces," she said.

Involvement with students is in fact a major draw for Snyder, who has only been teaching at Davidson for one year. Since beginning her independent career in 2007, she has already involved nearly 50 undergraduate students in her lab, most of whom began working with little knowledge of carbohydrates.

"What makes this environment attractive for me is that the work is just as much about teaching as it is about research," she said. "I really enjoy training students, and my work is often inspired by their interests."

Joyelle Newton '15, who helped Snyder with the project, also praised the student-centered approach. "By working with Dr. Snyder, I learned about the time and patience that complex synthesis requires. I also learned how to communicate effectively in a laboratory setting."

Snyder said that her students' experiences may give them an edge if they wish to apply to graduate schools. "I'm training the next generation of glycoscientists," she said.

The "Meet the Glycoscientist" feature on Snyder and her students is available online (PDF).