Thursday, May 2, 2013

Organic Chemistry and the 21st Century

On PLOS Blogs there is an interesting piece on Organic Chemistry and Medicine. The author remarks:

I looked up Friedel-Crafts alkylation, a phrase hovering in my distant memory, and soon discovered that this is the addition of a carbon-containing group to a benzene ring. According to the textbook, “In Friedel-Crafts alkylation, the electrophile is typically a carbonium ion. It, too, is formed in an acid-base equilibrium, this time in the Lewis sense,” followed by several reactions.

“What has this to do with setting a bone, removing a spleen, delivering a baby, or treating cancer?” I bellowed to my husband.

“The human body is a giant chemistry set that’s making and breaking covalent bonds,” he answered, obviously brainwashed. So I asked the same of the good Dr. Fowler.

“If anything, a molecular knowledge is more important for physicians and people going into health care now than it ever was. My dermatologist said, ‘I never use organic!’ But skin cancer is a perfect example of photochemistry of the skin,” Fowler said.

 Having taken this back in 1962, a decade or so before the author, and retaking it a year ago, fifty years later, I saw the difference up to the point where the mass of memorized reactions started again, halfway through the second semester. Molecular knowledge is important, just look at the hydrogen bond and DNA. But it is not organic that one needs for melanoma but pathways and reaction rates, stuff we never had fifty years ago.

The problem with Organic is that it the revenge by all those 19th century German Chemists, memorizing reactions which any good physician or cancer researcher may look up but not have memorized.