Undergrad Research Leads to Fresh Breath

January 26, 2014

Harvey Mudd students studying a compound derived from shrimp shells could not have imagined their research would one day lead to a product that freshens breath and brightens smiles. But it has.

Shenda Baker
Shenda Baker

Chemistry professor Shenda Baker and Harvey Mudd Trustee Emeritus William Wiesmann, co-founders of bio-pharmaceutical company Synedgen, have launched Synedent, a new oral rinse that freshens breath and helps clean teeth and gums, without the burn or irritation of harsh oral rinses. This month, the company is launching its first significant production of the product in the Claremont area and online.

A major focus of Baker’s research with undergraduates has been the study of chitosan, a natural product derived from shrimp shells. The ingredient—chitosan-arginine (Chitosan Argininamide), Baker says, is what makes Synedent so effective.

“I remember working on chitosan-arginine at the very beginning of the process when it was part of my REI summer research and senior thesis, when we were still trying to figure out how to optimally conjugate the two together and what sort of physical properties the conjugated version had in comparison to the unconjugated versions,” said Michelle Lum ’07.

Megan Yarnall ’06, now an attorney, also worked on chitosan in the Baker lab. “My strongest memory is the excitement of working with a material that was relatively new on the scene with many potential applications,” said Yarnall. “It was exciting to be a part of research that had the potential to lead to new products that could improve lives. It is great news to hear that the research and application of functionalized chitosan is ongoing and continuing to yield useful results and end products.”

Baker, a professor since 1991, divides her time between labs at Harvey Mudd and Synedgen, and is supervising two Harvey Mudd thesis students, Brian Fielder ’14 and Julia Lee ’14. Wiesmann maintains ties to Harvey Mudd through the Clinic Program; he has worked as a liaison with faculty and students on 17 Clinic projects to develop medical products.

At Synedgen, Baker and Wiesmann modify natural polymers to create innovative and biocompatible health care products. Synedent, their first product, is made from naturally derived and environmentally compatible ingredients and relies on a patented combination of natural-based products that help to rinse the mouth without harsh detergents or alcohol. “It is mouth-friendly and is formulated with a balanced pH that doesn’t harm normal or damaged tissue nor irritate sensitive mouths,” said Baker. “An added benefit is it moistens dry mouth conditions.”

Baker and Wiesmann are working with local specialty grocers and dental offices to share Synedent with a wider audience.