The oxygen isotopes O-17 and O-18 are extremely useful for tracing molecular processes in chemistry, agrochemistry, biology and pharmacy.
The isotopes O-17 or O-18 are used to replace the common O-16 in a compound of interest. The O-17 and O-18 labelled compound can be traced by mass spectroscopy because O-17 and O-18 are both heavier than O-16. The O-17 compound can also be traced by NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy as O-17 has a nuclear spin.
Using oxygen isotopes, a pharmacist can label a drug and monitor its activity in a cell. A chemist may seek a better understanding of a chemical process for optimising a production line. The oxygen isotopes can also help with the study of catalytic reactions.
Oxygen isotopes are, however, scarce and expensive. In order to have a low cost production of compounds with oxygen isotopes, the conversion rate of oxygen gas made of O-17 or O-18 to the desired compound has to be highly efficient.
Transferring an oxygen isotope into a desired compound:
Oxygen gas is rarely the primary oxidant as it is kinetically inhibited. The reaction conditions for molecular oxygen are too extreme, resulting in fully oxidized products or mixtures of products. A very successful route to transfer an oxygen isotope into a target molecule is oxygen transfer by peroxides (H2O2 ) or organosilicon peroxides of the type (R3Si)2O2. These reagents can be produced from the molecules shown in the figure and the addition of oxygen gas made of O-17 or O-18 at room temperature and ambient pressure.
Oxygen isotopes are a scarce and expensive resource. The synthetic route developed by the researchers is optimised in respect to the consumption of oxygen gas and, thus, the consumption of oxygen isotopes. The reaction uses only stoichiometric or slight excess amounts of oxygen gas. As little or no isotope labelled oxygen gas is wasted, the reaction is highly economical.
Potential product and market:
Peroxides are often unstable or even explosive. This means, typically the end-user cannot simply buy an O-17 or O-18 labelled peroxide and have it shipped to his laboratory. The end-user has to synthesise the peroxide himself when, where and in the quantity that is needed. The state-of-the-art synthesis routes for peroxides are elaborate and wasteful in the use of oxygen isotopes. Some laboratories might have refrained from using O-tracing methods, just because of the high cost and effort of producing O-17 or O-18 labelled peroxides in their own laboratories.
The proposed process uses a minimum amount of the expensive oxygen isotopes. The synthesis is easy and safe. This makes peroxides as oxygen isotope transfer reagents easily accessible and universally available.
The technology might be commercialised as a kit: isotopically labelled oxygen in a gas cylinder, organosilicon compound in a small vial. The customer mixes both together at room temperature under ambient pressure to get a peroxide that is ready to use as an oxygen transfer reagent. In some cases a commercialisation partner might be able to produce, sell and ship the more stable peroxides directly to the customer.
The Swiss university is looking for a licensing partner from industry who is already well situated in the isotope market and would like to use this technology for in-house research or for the production and sale of oxygen isotope labelled peroxides or the production and sale of kits, which allow the end-user to produce oxygen isotope labelled peroxides on demand.