Chemistry and Life

Medicinal chemistry. Pharmacology. Toxicology. Environmental sciences.


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FisetinI’ve always been interested in natural chemical compounds that have pharmacological effects.  When I was doing research at Johns Hopkins, I worked on designing semi-synthetic derivatives of the natural antimalarial compound artemisinin.  Nature provides many such leads for drug discovery.

So this report of a flavonol called fisetin which may have potential pharmacological activity against Alzheimer’s disease caught my eye.  Reports like these are not all that unusual – science reporters love these kinds of things and they are often under breathless headlines like “scientists find chemical in strawberries that may cure Alzheimer’s disease”.  (The headline of the article linked above, fortunately, is not so hyperbolic but still contains the claim that fisetin “prevents Alzheimer’s disease in mice” even though mice don’t really get Alzheimer’s disease.)

Lots of chemical compounds have measurable biological activities like what is reported for fisetin.  What rarely gets reported, though, is important context.  For example, they may only be active in in vitro tests (“test tube experiments”), or they may only be active only in high doses that could never be achieved through taking a pill or supplement.  But that never stops the people who sell supplements from trying to capitalize on the science by offering these chemicals as “all natural memory enhancers” or whatever.  Indeed, a Google search for fisetin will turn up all kinds of links to such products.

In the case of fisetin, it is still a way off from even being studied clinically in humans.  And if it ever is, I suspect the known low bioavailability of flavonols will be big obstacle to clear.


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