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Glenn T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear Chemistry

by Alexander H. Tullo
January 16, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 3

Credit: James Broadus/Truman VA Medical Center
Silvia Jurisson, chemistry professor, University of Missouri, Columbia
Credit: James Broadus/Truman VA Medical Center

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology

Although radiochemistry programs have been dwindling at universities across the U.S., exploration of the field is expanding at the University of Missouri, Columbia, largely because of the efforts of chemistry professor Silvia S. Jurisson.

When Jurisson arrived at the university in 1991, attracted by its research reactor, she was the department’s only radiochemist. “We now have four in the chemistry department,” she says.

“Regretfully, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of academic nuclear and radiochemistry programs in the U.S. over the last 25 years,” says J. David Robertson, a professor of chemistry and associate director of the research reactor at the University of Missouri. “Professor Jurisson provided both the vision and the leadership that persuaded the university to buck the national trend and invest in this area of critical national need.”

In addition, Jurisson sees teaching—to enable graduate and undergraduate students to spread their wings in radiochemistry—as vital to her mission. “It is really important to train the next generation of students in radiochemistry and nuclear chemistry,” she says. “It is a field not as many folks go into anymore.”

Radioenvironmental chemistry and radio­pharmaceutical chemistry are two of Jurisson’s main areas of research. Her work in radio­environmental chemistry has focused on technetium-99, an isotope produced in the nuclear fuel cycle that has a long half-life. Nuclear sites that were active during the Cold War, such as Savannah River in South Carolina and Hanford in Washington, have been contaminated with 99Tc. The most common chemical form of the isotope, pertechnetate, isn’t absorbed by most clays in soil and thus tends to migrate in the environment.

Jurisson has sought to find a way to make 99Tc stop migrating. She has attempted to do this by reducing the pertechnetate with iron(II)sulfide. “When we reacted that with the pertechnetate, the technetium incorporated onto the surface of the iron sulfide and bound there quite nicely,” she recalls.

In radiopharmaceuticals, Jurisson’s work has mostly been involved with radiotherapy. There, the objective is to chelate radioactive metals such as rhenium, rhodium, and radiolanthanides and covalently link the chelates onto antibodies or peptides. Rhenium and technetium can directly cyclize peptides by coordinating to cysteine thiolates from reduced disulfide bonds, as in the case of α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone or octreotide analogs. A successful radiopharmaceutical will bind to the receptors of cancer cells and, in Jurisson’s words, “stay there long enough to irradiate and hopefully kill them.”

Recently, Jurisson’s group has been working on processing, separating, and complexing rhodium-105, rhenium-186, and arsenic-72. Her group is now working on conjugating these radionuclides with peptides.

Jurisson, who is 55, says she has always been interested in math and science and that her interest in chemistry in particular emerged when she received a chemistry set as a child. She earned a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Delaware in 1978 and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Cincinnati in 1982. She has authored 103 papers.

Jurisson will present the award address before the ACS Division of Nuclear Chemistry & Technology.


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