Women in STEM: Fioralba Taullaj

UTM PhD candidate studies adamantane-based synthesis to aid drug development

Fioralba Taullaj is a PhD candidate in inorganic chemistry working under Professor Ulrich Fekl at UTM. Taullaj’s research focuses on a molecule known as adamantane — the simplest unit of a diamond.

“I work on basically creating tools for the synthesis of different molecules that contain adamantane and specifically trying to [selectively] activate different positions on it,” said Taullaj.

Adamantane is a bridged compound that consists of hydrogen-carbon bonds. It is connected through three rings that form a cage-like structure. This compound was first isolated from petroleum in the 1930s and it has shown promise in antiviral drugs due to its biocompatibility and structural rigidity.

Biocompatibility is an advantage because it means that when a drug containing an adamantane derivate — especially one for a chronic disease — is ingested in excess, accumulation is unlikely and non-toxic. Flu vaccines, for example, include derivatives of adamantane. Adamantane’s lipophilicity, which is its affinity for fats and oils, makes it an ideal candidate for modifying existing molecules that constitute drugs and make them more effective and stable.

In addition, according to Taullaj, adamantane-based molecules can be used to target proteins and can also be manipulated to permeate certain biological barriers.  

Currently, there are seven drugs on the market that include adamantane moieties. On the other hand, adamantane can also be polymerized to form a single layer of diamond for use in materials or catalysis.  

According to Taullaj, the potential applications of adamantane are vast and promising, but the tools for this kind of synthesis are limited.

“For me, it’s about getting over that hurdle so I can give people the tools to solve all these problems with something that could be extremely promising,” said Taullaj.

To synthesize such molecules, Taullaj uses glovebox techniques because intermediates to final products are highly unstable when exposed to air.

Her day-to-day work includes creating inorganic adamantyl derivatives that can then be potentially used in various complexes, and then possibly be incorporated into novel therapeutics.  

“It’s this new tool we haven’t explored that could provide a lot of different solutions to problems we already have,” said Taullaj.

This article is published as part of a series of profiles in honour of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter