Dr. Polt began his research career by developing methods for amino acid synthesis in Prof. Marty O’Donnell’s lab at IUPUI. After that he was trained in the art of Organic Synthesis in the laboratories of Profs. Gilbert J. Stork at Columbia University and Dieter Seebach at the ETH in Zürich. He has continued to develop novel synthetic methods for amino acids, amino alcohols, glycosides and glycopeptides. Application of these methods has resulted in the production of a number of pharmacologically active glycopeptides, alkaloid-like inhibitors of glycolipid processing enzymes and glycosyltransferases, as well as glycolipids with biological activity such as glycosphingolipids and rhamnolipids. He discovered a new class of glycosphingolipids in the insect Manduca sexta— biologically active sphingomyelins and glycosides derived from dienylsphingosine, and has developed methods for their synthesis, as well as the synthesis of rhamnolipids from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The biological focus of his work has been in attempting to understand the chemistry of carbohydrates (e.g. glycolipids, glycoproteins) at cell membranes, membrane trafficking, and using these insights to design glycopeptide drugs from peptide neurotransmitter (neuromodulators, hormones) with enhanced stability in vivo that are capable of penetrating the Blood-Brain Barrier and interacting with GPCRs as agonists or antagonists. Clinical applications include pain, migraine, Parkinsons, Alzheimers and other neurogenerative diseases.
In addition to lecturing and laboratory teaching during 25 years at the University of Arizona, and the publication of more than 125 scientific papers, he has mentored a large number of undergraduate, graduate (16 Ph.D.s granted, 3 in progress) and post-doctoral students who have taken positions in academia, industry and the US government. His Ph.D.s have hailed from the US (9), Czech Republic*, China, India, Iran*, Ireland, Kenya*, Korea, Mexico* and Sri Lanka. Four of these Ph.D. students (*) have gone on to become naturalized citizens or permanent resident status. Recent undergraduates associated with his research group have gone to graduate schools at Harvard, MIT, Boston University, University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University.