• Name: Tom Bitterwolf, Ph.D.
  • Institution: University of Idaho
  • Department: Chemistry
  • Phone: 208-885-6361
  • Email: bitterte@uidaho.edu


In the 1990’s the first proposals that nitric oxide might have a biological role were viewed with skepticism. Nitric oxide is a highly reactive gas and the view at that time was that NO would react almost immediately after it was formed. Twenty years later NO is recognized as having not one but numerous biological roles including neurotransmitter, smooth muscle relaxant and biological defense. In this latter role it acts as a reactive oxygen species and can do cellular damage.

The action of NO on smooth muscles facilitates the transport of red blood cells through capillaries. In diabetes blood flow in the extremities and skin is hindered as the disease progresses, thus compounds containing NO are frequently used to relax the capillaries leading to better circulation. Perhaps the best known application of this property is in the use of nitroglycerine (that breaks down into NO in the body) to treat angina.

For many years we have been interested in the photochemistry of molecules containing nitric oxide as a way of delivering NO to diabetics. Since blood flow issues are concentrated in the extremities and skin where the capillaries are relatively close to the surface, developing a drug that would be inert in the body, but would release NO when Irradiated, could provide a viable treatment for diabetics.

Our extensive experience in photochemistry and our strong capabilities in synthesis combine in our research in this area.

Minimum Classes: Freshman chemistry is essential and organic is strongly desired.

Projects: INBRE students in the Bitterwolf laboratory work side by side with graduate students and other undergraduates to prepare and photolyze metal nitrosyl compounds that appear to be candidates for medicinal applications. The background of the student and their experience in the laboratory dictates the precise choice of molecular targets, but an average student is given a number of possible targets and works to prepare those compounds with the goal of carrying out photochemical studies on them. The compounds to be investigated this summer will consist of metal nitrosyl compounds tethered to molecules such as biotin to bind the nitrosyl compound to a protein such as albumin. Photochemical studies will establish the release of NO, and the wavelengths necessary for photolysis. To be practical as a medicinal compound these compounds will have to lose NO when exposed to red light. (Tissues pass red light as anyone who has held a flashlight up to their hand knows.)

These projects allow a student to follow a compound from synthesis to in vitro testing. They are ideal for students having an interest in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.
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