I was trained in structure elucidation in natural products chemistry for my MSc, organic synthesis of natural products for my PhD and elucidation of enzyme mechanisms for my Postdoc. In starting an independent research career, I chose to focus on organic synthesis for solving biological problems. A productive collaboration began with Prof Jan Verschoor at the Department of Biochemistry at UP, where I could apply a chemical viewpoint in the interpretation of biochemical results. We have been involved in the synthesis of compounds for the development of new methods for detecting and diagnosing TB. The ability to propose mechanisms to explain organic reactions is what I enjoy most about organic chemistry. In collaboration with Dr Colin Kenyon of the CSIR, we are investigating the mechanism of regulation in kinases that leads to an observed kinetic isotope effect when ATP is deuterated at C-8. A greater understanding of the mechanism could lead to improved drug development for a range of targets in TB and cancer. In collaboration with Prof Ignacy Cukrowski we are probing the mechanisms of organic reactions of adenine being used to synthesise kinase inhibitors using computational methods. Improved understanding of the reactivity of adenine is useful as this is a common biological scaffold.
In 2014, I received a prestigeous University of Pretoria Laureate award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation together with my two co-workers for redesigning our third year organic chemistry practical curriculum to train our undergraduate students to become researchers. In particular we were able to increase the ability of our third year students to work independently as would be expected of them in a research environment. This developed their self-confidence and their identity as potential researchers.
1. Khazir, J.; • Mir, B. A.; Pilcher, L. A.; Riley, D. L.; Chasoo, G.; Islam, M.A.; Saxena, A.; Sampath Kumar, H. M. “Design and synthesis of ring C opened analogues of α-santonin as potential anticancer agents" Med. Chem. Res., 2016, 25, 2030-2041. DOI: 10.1007/s00044-016-1633-8
2. Pilcher, L. A.; Riley, D. L.; Mathabathe, K. C.; Potgieter, M. “An inquiry-based practical curriculum for organic chemistry as preparation for industry and postgraduate research” S. Afr. J. Chem., 2015, 68, 236-244.
3. Khazir, J.; Riley, D. L.; Chashoo, G.; Mir, B. A.; Liles, D.; Islam, M. A.; Singh, S. K.; Vishwakarma, R. A.; Pilcher, L. A. “Design, synthesis and anticancer activity of Michael-type thiol adducts of α-santonin analogue with exocyclic methylene”, Eur. J. Med. Chem., 2015, 101, 769–779.
4. Khazir, J.; Riley, D. L.; Pilcher, L. A.; De Maayer, P.; Mir, B. A. “Anticancer agents from diverse natural sources” Nat. Prod. Commun. 2014, 9(11), 1655-1669.
5. Khazir, J.; Mir, B. A.; Pilcher, L.; Riley, D. L. “Role of plants in anticancer drug discovery” Phytochemistry Lett. 2014, 7, 173-181.
6. Balogun, M.O.; Huws, E.; Sirhan, M.M.; Saleh, A.D.; Al Dulayymi, J.R.; Pilcher, L.; Verschoor, J.A.; Baird, M.S. “Thiol modified mycolic acids”, Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 2013, 172-173, 40-57.
7. Beukes, M.; Lemmer, Y.; Deysel, M.; Al Dulayymi, J.R.; Baird, M.S.; Koza, G. Iglesias, M.M.; Rowles, R.R.; Theunissen, C.; Grooten, J.; Toschi, G.; Roberts, V.V.; Pilcher, L.; van Wyngaardt, S.; Mathebula, N.; Balogun, M.; Stoltz, A.C.; Verschoor, J.A. “Structure-function relationships of the antigenicity of mycolic acids in tuberculosis patients” Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 2010, 163, 800-808.
8. Driver, C. H. S.; Balogun, M. O.; Toschi, G.; Verschoor, J. A.; Baird, M. S.;, Pilcher, L. A.* “A biomimetic approach to the synthesis of a mycolic motif” Tetrahedron Lett. 2010, 51, 1185-1186.
9. Lemmer, Y.; Thanyani, S.T.; Vrey, P.J.; Driver, C.H.S.; Venter, L.; van Wyngaardt, S.; Ten Bokum, A.M.C.; Ozoemena, K.I.; Pilcher, L.A.; Fernig, D.G.; Stoltz, A.C.; Swai. H.S.; Verschoor, J.A. “Chapter 5 – Detection of anti-mycolic acid antibodies by liposomal biosensors” Methods Enzymol, 2009, 464, 79-104.
10. Sharma, K.; Laurens J.B.; Pilcher, L.A. “Stereoselective synthesis of the urinary metabolite N-Acetyl-S-(3,4-dihydroxybutyl)cysteine” Synth. Commun. 2009, 39, 1415-1424.
11. Benadie, Y.; Deysel, M.; Siko, D.G.R.; Roberts, V.V.; van Wyngaardt, S.; Thanyani, T.S.; Sekanka, G.; Ten Bokum, A.M.C.; Collett, L.A.; Grooten, J.; Baird, M.S.; Verschoor, J.A. “Cholesteroid Nature of Free Mycolic Acids from M. tuberculosis.” Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 2008, 152, 95-103.