A West Virginia University chemist is working with a team of U.S. scientists to find drugs to combat a pandemic that decimated Europe in the Middle Ages and some fear could one day be used as a biological weapon.

George ODoherty , an associate professor in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences , is working with researchers from Luna Innovations Inc. to develop a novel therapeutic treatment for bubonic plague and other infectious diseases. A $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, is funding the research.

Were very excited to be working with some top scientists on this project,ODoherty said.Its nice to have WVU and our C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry gain this recognition and be able to develop ties with other major universities.

Also known as the Black Death, the bubonic plague killed millions in Europe in the 1300s, wiping out between 30 and 60 percent of the continents population. The plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis , is still active in the present day, with the World Health Organization reporting 1,000-3,000 cases a year. Concerns that terrorists might use the plague as a weapon are the focus of think tanks related to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

ODoherty and his colleagues hope to allay those concerns with the help of Mother Nature.

ODoherty has been conducting research for years on new ways of synthesizing complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides to discover new drugs that will treat various diseases. One substance he is working with is SL0101 , a natural product isolated from plants and found to combat Yersinia pestis .

Jeff Smith, senior research scientist and principal investigator at the Roanoke, Va.-based Luna Innovations, said he approached ODoherty about participating in the study because of his research.

We asked ODoherty if he would be interested in generating novel SL0101 analogs as part of Lunas program after he published a peer-reviewed article describing a novel synthetic route for generating SL0101 ,Smith said.The present program is designed to identify an SL0101 analog that is more effective in cell culture and animal studies, and we realized ODohertys synthetic approach would yield numerous SL0101 analogs.

ODoherty and his staff at WVU will be working along with the University of Virginia, State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute for Luna Innovations Inc.s program.

His team, which consists of postdoctoral and graduate students, will continue to work on their research for the next year at WVU in the chemistry labs and then send it off to Deborah Lannigan, associate professor of microbiology at UVA , for further testing.

ODohertys skill at synthesizing complex molecules will be invaluable to Lunas program,Smith said.Together, we have identified 50 analogs for synthesis that will improve pharmacokinetic profiles relative to that for SL0101 . We have established a relationship that will no doubt be very beneficial to this program and one that I hope will extend to future programs as well.