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Chemistry professor travels to Cuba to share Distributed Drug Discovery program

Feb 5, 2024

With nothing but some luggage and a small paper map in hand, pharmaceutical research expert William L. Scott found himself, once again, in a new and exciting environment — this one warm and humid with a cool Atlantic breeze.

A research professor of chemistry at the Indiana University School of Science at IUPUI, Scott was invited to Havana, Cuba, to be a guest lecturer at the Glacier One Health International Symposium — a joint initiative between Germany and Latin American countries — to give a presentation on his Distributed Drug Discovery program.

Students seated at a table look to what William L. Scott, who is also seated, is writing on his paper. Students at the Moscow State University in Russia review chemistry concepts with IUPUI professor William L. Scott. Photo courtesy of William L. Scott

Known as D3, the program is designed to help students apply chemistry concepts and lab techniques to real-world challenges by using their skills to discover treatments for neglected and infectious diseases, particularly ones that affect small or low-income communities. Typically, students in a chemistry lab will synthesize targeted molecules and then test them for drug potential either in biology labs or through open-access testing resources.

The goal of D3 is to make it affordable to research treatments by breaking down drug discovery into small components that can be allotted to multiple low-cost sites such as colleges and universities across the world. By setting up working relationships with various academic institutions, the program’s mission to identify leads in the drug discovery process can be accelerated.

Scott has traveled to places such as Poland, Russia, Spain, the Czech Republic and Kenya to spread awareness of the D3 initiative in hopes of sharing resources and fostering collaborative relationships with educators and students alike. It’s the reason he made his way to Cuba. 

“At the symposium I presented the vision, accomplishments and future potential of D3,” Scott said. “I met with professors and students from Germany, Cuba, Mexico and Costa Rica who expressed interest in IUPUI’s program.

Students in a lab look toward William L. Scott at the front of the room as he adds liquid to a beaker. Scott presents his D3 workshop to students at the University of Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of William L. Scott

“I expect these seeds will lead to new D3 collaborations in one or more of these countries. A recent Cuban Ph.D. offered to help further develop D3 so it can be implemented in workshops in Latin American locations without my physical presence.”

Scott’s lecture focused on D3’s globally distributed process to seek treatments for neglected and infectious diseases while teaching basic drug discovery sciences. He also highlighted D3’s new lab where students make and test molecules as potential treatments for COVID-19 — as well as the program’s earlier research to discover drugs to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections, a dangerous and highly resistant bacteria that exists in water, plants and soil.

After the conclusion of his presentation, Scott held a workshop for interested students at the University of Havana. There he demonstrated how simple D3 equipment and synthetic procedures can help students find new potential drugs.

“There is a great need to train the next generation of drug discovery scientists,” Scott said. “At the same time, the lack of a profit incentive results in under-researched neglected and infectious diseases. I am passionate about D3 connecting these two goals by encouraging students around the world to work together as they see the direct application of their work and training to addressing areas of intense humanitarian need.”


School of Science

Devin Voss

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