Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2013

It was a business trip for the 2003 Mercyhurst graduate, who has spent much of his career searching for marine compounds that might one day help those sufering from pain and disease. He’s continuing that research now at Duquesne University, where he was appointed assistant professor of medicinal chemistry last fall. With the widest variety of living organisms on earth, the oceans may well be the latest frontier for medical research. Tidgewell was hunting for cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae or pond scum) and returned to Pittsburgh with enough to propel his research for several months. The raw material isn’t glamorous. It looks a bit like hair or limp seaweed, feels a bit slimy and looks pretty gross. When Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World series featured Tidgewell’s work, the narrator said cyanobacteria looked like “marine snot.” But back in his lab, using state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry instruments, he hopes to isolate from the cyanobacteria compounds that could lead to advances in pain relief and addiction treatment. How and why do his test compounds react with pain receptors in the human brain? That’s the riddle he’s trying to solve. Though it’s far from the ocean depths where he fnds his raw materials, Tidgewell says Duquesne is a good ft for him because of its focus on pain studies. In addition to teaching medicinal chemistry courses in the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Mylan School of Pharmacy, he’s part of the Chronic Pain Research Consortium (CPRC), collaborating with scientists from many disciplines to better understand and treat disorders of the central nervous system. A native of Irvine in Southern California, Tidgewell was recruited to join Mercyhurst’s lacrosse program in fall of 1999. His teams never fnished out of the Top 10, and he capped his career with an appearance in the NCAA Final Four. His success in the classroom was just as memorable. Tidgewell knew he wanted to major in chemistry and focused on computational chemistry and math at the Hurst. He worked with Dr. Candee Chambers to investigate a sulfur compound released by garlic that seemed to have some medicinal properties. The

compound disappeared within minutes once the garlic clove was cracked, though, so they looked for a way to stabilize it and harness its healing potential. But a summer at the University of Florida in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) convinced him he wanted to get out from behind the desk. He continued to study natural products while earning his doctorate at the University of Iowa, where his mentor, Dr. Thomas E. Prisinzano, sought treatments for pain that wouldn’t cause drug dependence. Later, as a post-doctoral fellow with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he worked in Dr. William Gerwick’s lab at the University of San Diego. There his focus turned to drug discovery from the ocean, primarily looking for cancer-fghting drugs. After about two and half years in San Diego, he accepted another post-doc assignment in Panama with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, still afliated with the Gerwick lab. In an unspoiled wilderness, he found a rich hunting ground for materials that might one day help treat both cancer and neglected tropical diseases like malaria and leishmaniasis. The work involved frequent scuba excursions – not as much fun as it might sound for Tidgewell, who had a deep aversion to water after nearly drowning when he was just 2. Though he grew up in Southern California, he pretty much avoided the ocean until the demands of science forced him to conquer his fear and now he is as comfortable underwater as on land. When he headed to Duquesne, a new post-doc took his place in Panama, but Tidgewell still intends to return about twice a year to obtain his own lab samples. He’s found his research home in medicinal and natural products chemistry with its focus on developing and testing compounds. He calls it “chemistry with a purpose.” And he believes it’s important to act quickly. “Due to problems with ocean acidifcation and pollution, species are disappearing every day,” he says. “We need to fnd them before they’re gone.” He doesn’t measure success only in terms of drug patents, noting that it can take years, even decades, to shepherd a new product through animal and human trials to actual use. “But if I can go and discover a tool to better understand pain or addiction or depression, that’s a win.”

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