SRU chemistry researchers studying ways to fight bacterial infections


Student working in a lab

Jarin Dengler, a Slippery Rock University junior chemistry major, works in the organic chemistry lab at SRU creating compounds that attach to the high blood pressure drug hydralazine.

June 6, 2022

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Those who use medicine to treat high blood pressure must be aware of the harmful side effects. Researchers at Slippery Rock University, however, are using one type of blood pressure medication for its beneficial side effects. They aren't ingesting the drug but rather creating compounds with it that could treat completely different ailments such as bacterial infections.

A faculty-student research team in SRU's Chemistry Department recently identified an opportunity to find different types of antimicrobial agents after they decided to expand upon other scientists' research about the drug hydralazine.

"Hydralazine is a blood pressure medication, but when you couple it with other compounds, the resulting compound has antimicrobial properties," said George Lengyel, associate professor of chemistry. "It's really a coincidence that it has both, but we're focusing on the antimicrobial properties to reduce bacterial growth. There always needs to be alternative medications that could be used to treat bacterial infections because bacteria such as MRSA develop an immunity (to some antibiotics) over time. As bacteria continue to evolve around the medications, (the medical community needs) a larger and larger library of treatment options."

Those libraries need researchers like ones at SRU who contribute to it with one lab test at a time for the chance that one compound might be effective. That's work Jarin Dengler is poised to do. Dengler, a junior chemistry major from Aliquippa, is working with Lengyel this summer as part of a research project funded by a $4,800 grant through SRU's Summer Collaborative Research Experience grant program. 



"I took an Organic Chemistry class in the fall and I got my first real experience in a lab and I really liked it," Dengler said. "I got the idea to continue in the summer. I wouldn't have guessed it would take five days to synthesize and purify one compound, but I appreciate what goes into it and just the nuance of it. Having this type of research on my resume looks good for when I apply for jobs or graduate school, but more importantly the experience will help my understanding and help me become comfortable in the lab."

"Undergraduate research is a really a transformative experience for our students," Lengyel said. "It's important to have the time to do this. Normally in labs (as part of class during the semester), you have procedures to follow and you don't have as much time for troubleshooting. This is where you get that real research experience."

Dengler works either at home analyzing data or in the organic chemistry lab at SRU four days a week during the summer. He is mixing compounds that attach to hydralazine to create reactions, purifications and characterizations, and each of those steps could take an entire day. The researchers will then work with students and faculty from SRU's Biology Department to grow bacteria and treat it with a control and another with the compound to see if it has antimicrobial properties. Dengler could produce as many as two dozen compounds to add to the library, whereas much larger labs will have hundreds of compounds that are tested for therapeutic purposes.

"If we find something that works really well, then we would definitely publish it in a journal and get it out there for other people at larger (research) universities or companies with larger resources to take it from there," Lengyel said. "We're doing some of the foundational work. At the very least with all my research students, I'd like to see them present at a conference, such as the American Chemical Society conference, either as a poster or an oral presentation."

What's exciting for Dengler and Lengyel is that this research is new, as opposed to an ongoing project where one student picks up from another's research under the faculty mentorship.

"This was inspired from what we talked about in class last fall and we went out on a limb and said, 'Let's try it,'" Lengyel said. "Jarin was the first student (from his class) who reached out to me about research and one of the most important characteristics of a student who wants to do research is having a real passion for actually getting into it, and he has had that from the very start. He's always been interested and he's got really great hands in lab, as opposed to just being book smart. You can tell that this in his wheelhouse."

More information about SRU's chemistry programs is available on the department's webpage. More information about SRU's SCORE grants are available on the Office of Grants, Research and Sponsored Program's webpage. 

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854  |