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Turning Toxic Gas Into Lifesaving Drugs

Turning Toxic Gas Into Lifesaving Drugs

How chemists found a positive use for greenhouse gas.

Turning Toxic Gases Into Lifesaving Drugs

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 17:45

Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

Text Updated: Sep 27, 2013 - 5:45am 

(Inside Sciene TV) As the concern over greenhouse gases in the atmosphere heats up, scientists in California may have found a productive use for one of the most powerful of the gases: fluoroform. Among other uses, fluoroform is a byproduct of Teflon production, which is used as an anti-stick coating on cooking pans, clothes and paint.

"Compared to carbon dioxide, [fluoroform] causes 11,700 times more global warming. It's a very potent global-warming gas. Also, once it gets into the atmosphere, it can linger on for 250 years," said G.K. Surya Prakash, a chemist at the University of Southern California – Los Angeles.

Manufacturers must store fluoroform to keep it from leaking into the atmosphere. But Prakash discovered a way to trigger a chemical reaction that can transform the fluoroform into an ingredient for making pharmaceutical drugs.

Prakash said, "Fluorine is the kingpin of drug discovery because 20 percent of the modern drugs which we all use on a daily basis contain one or more fluorine atoms in it."

For example, drugs like Prozac, Celebrex and even some cancer treatments all contain fluorine which can now be created with fluoroform.

Researchers have pinned down the precise conditions that are needed to transform the harmful fluoroform into safe compounds containing fluorine.

Their fluoroform is also relatively cheap to produce.

"You can buy it for five dollars a gram currently, but we can make it for 20 or 30 cents a gram," Prakash said.

The lower production costs for the pharmaceutical companies could mean cheaper prescription medications at the pharmacy counter.

Prakash is continually working to find other uses for fluoroform that do not damage the environment. He hopes to use a similar process to convert some harmful gases into more useful products like fuel and feedstock.

Get Inside the Science

USC Scientists Turn a Harmful Greenhouse Gas Into a Tool for Making Life-Saving Pharmaceuticals

G.K. Surya Prakash, University of Southern California

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Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.