Acevedo conducts drug-discovery research

Orlando Acevedo, associate professor of organic chemistry, is a computational chemist with several research projects under way. He is involved in drug discovery research, collaborating with various Auburn professors and medical schools across the country. He is a collaborator on a project with Yale School of Medicine working to discover better drugs to treat melanoma. With the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is working to produce a cyclophilin-based therapeutic treatment effective at impeding the transmission of HIV. He has a patent with Rajesh Amin, assistant professor of pharmacal sciences at Auburn, for developing compounds used to treat diabetes. Acevedo is also involved in on-campus drug discovery research with Angela Calderon, assistant professor of pharmacal sciences, as they seek to develop anti-malarial compounds.

“A heavy component of my postdoctoral advisor’s research at Yale was in the realm of HIV drugs, which is how I got started in drug discovery,” said Acevedo. “I brought the research with me to Auburn and then I branched out further.”

Acevedo is also studying how chemical reactions occur in solution and enzymes, and he is looking for ways to increase the speed of the reactions as well as the occurrence of potential product. The research overlaps heavily with Acevedo’s National Science Foundation-funded project titled, “Development of an Ionic Liquid Force Field for QM/ MM Simulations.” The three-year, $275,061 grant supports research to establish a firm understanding of the intermolecular interactions occurring between ionic liquids and important chemical reaction classes.

“The ionic liquids are a unique class of solvent, generally defined as a material containing only ionic species with a melting point below 100 degrees Celsius,” said Acevedo. “With more than 100 million pounds of chemical waste treated yearly, a better understanding of how to optimize recyclable ionic liquids for chemical reactions has the potential to impact society from the lab to large-scale industrial manufacturing.”

In addition, the NSF-funded research will expand the number of ionic liquid force field parameters available for simulation.

Lastly, Acevedo is writing his own computer software to process the data from the research simulations.

“We routinely simulate large systems containing millions of atoms and thousands of residues. We propose the creation of a new program, ‘Monte Carlo on Graphics Processing Units,’ to take advantage of the power of the graphics processing units, a graphic chip that processes the visual display in a computer. Over the years, these graphic chips have dramatically increased in computing power, so they are very attractive for general-purpose scientific and engineering computing.”

Acevedo enlisted the help of students in a computer science senior design class to set up the initial program.

“The students were exceptionally bright and already had jobs lined up after graduation,” said Acevedo, who regularly makes a concerted effort to involve students in his work and has both graduate and undergraduate chemistry students working in his lab. “Several of the undergraduates I have worked with have been published. I try to treat them the same way I do the graduate students and give them their own projects to work independently.”

For more information on Acevedo’s research, visit www.auburn.edu/cosam/faculty/ chemistry/acevedo/index.htm.

About Acevedo

Orlando Acevedo is originally from Miami, Fla. He attended Florida International University as an undergraduate in chemistry and received his doctorate from Duquesne University. He completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University in 2006, and thereafter joined the chemistry faculty at Auburn.

Auburn is a great institution with world-class research facilities that rival any university across the country, said Acevedo. Auburn is also the smallest town I have ever lived in, and it's great. For the first time in my life, I actually know my neighbors, and you can't beat a five-minute commute to work!

Acevedo met his wife, Chantel Acevedo, alumni associate professor in the Department of English, in high school. They have two daughters: Penelope, 7; and Mary Blair, 1.