Professor Helquist received his B.A. in chemistry in 1969 from the University of Minnesota. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1972 from Cornell University. After a year and a half as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, he joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1974, where he became professor of chemistry. In 1984, he moved to Notre Dame, where he served as department chair for five years. He maintains close collaborative research ties with laboratories in Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Japan.
Professor Helquist's research group is concerned with two broad areas: (1) the development of new methods in synthetic organic chemistry, including the preparation, structural study, and applications of new transition metal organometallic complexes as catalysts and reagents for asymmetric synthesis; and (2) the structure, synthesis, mechanism of action, and pharmaceutical development of biologically active compounds including antibiotics and antitumor agents, many of which have their origins as natural products. Often we take advantage of the interface between these two areas by applying some of our new methods, reagents, and catalysts in the synthesis of targeted natural products.
We have developed numerous synthetic methods employing iron, nickel, copper, rhodium, palladium, titanium, zirconium, magnesium, lithium, zinc, and samarium compounds as reagents or catalysts. We have employed many of these methods in the synthesis of complex natural products. Coupled with this organometallic work is the rational design of chiral transition metal catalysts through use of molecular mechanics computational techniques. Through use of this approach, we have succeeded in obtaining metal complexes that can be employed in metal-catalyzed reactions to give products with >99% enantiomeric excess.
In the area of total synthesis, our laboratory studies compounds that show promise of being developed into clinically useful antibiotics and anti-cancer agents. For several of the compounds that we study, the full structures have not been determined previously, and we therefore begin our work by employing high-field NMR and molecular mechanics computational techniques to determine the full, three-dimensional structures of these compounds. In the course of then pursuing total syntheses of these compounds, we often develop new methods. With synthetic materials in hand, we study structure-activity relationships and mechanisms of action. We employ this knowledge to obtain modified forms of the natural products to improve therapeutic properties, leading to the development of new pharmaceutical products. Some of our most recent derivatives are highly potent antibiotics that are active against a range of bacteria that are resistant to other classes of antibiotics.
Rosenbaum, A. I.; Cosner, C. C.; Mariani, C. J.; Maxfield, F. R.; Wiest, O.; Helquist, P. “Thiadiazole Carbamates: Potent Inhibitors of Lysosomal Acid Lipase and Potential Niemann-Pick Type C Disease Therapeutics” J. Med. Chem. 2010, 53, 5281-5289.Link
Pipalia, N. H. ; Cosner, C. C.; Huang, A.; Chaterjee, A. Bourbon, P.; Farley, N.; Helquist, P.; Wiest, O.; Maxfield, F. R. “Histone deacetylase inhibitor treatment dramatically reduces cholesterol accumulation in Niemann-Pick Type C1 mutant human fibroblasts” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 2011, 108, 5620-5625.Link
Cosner, C. C.; Byrd, K.; Ventura, P. J.; Adams Thomas, A.; Helquist, P. “Selective Oxidation of Benzylic and Allylic Alcohols Using Mn(OAc)3/Catalytic 2,3-Dichloro-5,6-dicyano-1,4-benzoquinone” Org. Lett. 2011, 13, 2071-2073.Link
Chen, Q.; Schweitzer, D.; Kane, J.; Davisson, V. J.; Helquist, P. “Total Synthesis of Iejimalide B” J. Org. Chem. 2011, 76, 5157-5169.Link
Cosner, C. C.; Helquist, P. “Concise, Convergent Syntheses of (±)-Trichostatin A Utilizing a Pd-Catalyzed Ketone Enolate α-Alkenylation Reaction” Org. Lett. 2011, 13, 3564-3567.Link
Wiest, O.; Helquist, P. “Striking a Balance to Control Stereochemistry” Science 2011, 333, 1831-1832.Link