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B. A Little Alchemy Does the Trick

Narrator: This is Science Today. Chemists are learning how to design drugs from the ground up. Using computers, they make 3-D molecular models of drugs and the diseases they want to target, and put them together to see how they might interact. But what if you want to modify an already existing drug? Chemist Andrew McAmmon of the University of California, San Diego says the answer is a little computational alchemy.

McAmmon: Taking a drug molecule that maybe works pretty well but you want to make it work better, so you take the various atoms in the drug molecule and transform them into different types of atoms. Transforming a hydrogen atom into a fluorine atom -- one can carry out these calculations in the computer.

Narrator: The computer then calculates how the proposed change might make the drug more -- or less -- effective.

McAmmon: And in fact there are now a number of compounds in clinical trials for the treatment of influenza, the treatment of emphysema, the treatment of HIV infections and other diseases.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Steve Tokar.