Dr. Ting Fu, a recently graduated MCB doctoral student from Prof. Jongsook Kemper's lab, has received the Salk Alumni award to support her postdoctoral research at Salk Institute.
Posted October 14, 2016
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MCB Faculty Named Directors of LAS Graduate Programs
Professor Satish Nair of the Department of Biochemistry has been appointed Director of the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology. Professor Nair has been serving as Interim Director since November 2015. The Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology serves physical and computer science students who are interested in applying their knowledge to biology, as well as students with a biological background interested in instrumentation, computation, and physical aspects of biology. The cooperation and cross-training of scientists with engineering, physical sciences, and life sciences backgrounds has infused biology with powerful technologies and exciting new paradigms. Close interactions between theory and experiments have led to fundamental advances in our understanding of the physical basis of life. Now biology is undergoing a transformation with application of modern computational methods and advanced experimental tools to solve problems of unprecedented complexity. The Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology is interdisciplinary, consisting of over 40 faculty members who have their home departments in Biochemistry, Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Computer Engineering, Molecular and Integrative Physiology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Microbiology, and the Medical School. The Center serves as the interface between faculty research programs in experimental biophysics and quantitative and computational biology, with common interests in elucidating the physical basis of biological phenomena. The graduate degree program of the Center offers training in all aspects of this rapidly growing area. Professor Martha Gillette of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology has been appointed Director of the Neuroscience Program as of August 2015. The Neuroscience Program is an interdisciplinary program of study and research leading to the doctoral degree. It offers a rigorous yet flexible program designed to foster the growth of the student through research activities, close interactions with the faculty, and exposure to top neuroscientists through seminars and attendance at professional meetings. Recognizing that there are many paths to success in neuroscience, the program imposes few specific requirements. Students design their own programs leading to the Ph.D., with oversight by faculty committees ensuring appropriate depth and breadth of training. The Neuroscience Program currently has over 85 affiliated faculty from more than 20 departments, and 70 students, studying the brain from a broad range of perspectives.
Posted September 27, 2016
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Unexpected function of nucleoporin RanBP2 maintains BA homeostasis, protecting against liver toxicity.
2016 MCB Convocation Address by Dr. Deborah A. Paul
Thank you Dr. Sligar for the invitation to speak at the convocation, and thank you graduates for graduating so that I could have the opportunity to come back to one of my favorite places. I’m sure that most of you are here today with friends & family that have supported you in reaching this achievement. I want to talk to you today about someone who supported me, my brother Tim.
I was the shy, introverted scientist; Tim was the extroverted, artistic type. He wrote stories and poetry, and was quite a musician – playing many different instruments, though excelling at piano. He could walk into a room full of strangers and make everyone his friend. He was younger than me, but he supported me in so many ways, for example:
1. He was my date for 10 year high school class reunion – since he knew all my friends anyway;
2. He went with me when, in my mid-twenties, I was able to buy my 1st pair of toe shoes – having taken up ballet, which I always loved, a bit late in life. He knew how much it meant to me to have achieved this, and he wanted to be there.
3. He was also one of my biggest boosters for going back to get my PhD. After I had received my Masters in Biology here at Illinois, I wanted to go on for a PhD but I didn’t know what area of science I wanted to focus on. So I took a job at Abbott working on the Development side of R & D in Diagnostics, working on tests to detect Hepatitis B infection. After working a few years, I decided what I wanted to do for a PhD and took a leave of absence from Abbott to go back to grad school – combining biochemistry, virology and immunology to study Hepatitis B. Tim was so proud, and would introduce me as “my sister who’s working on her PhD.”
A few weeks before I left for grad school, Tim ended up in the hospital. He hadn’t been feeling well, and all of the lymph nodes all over his body had become enlarged. They ran all sorts of tests, but never figured out the problem. He started feeling better and was released.
A few years passed, and I was working on finishing up my PhD when I got the call that Tim had developed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia – a type of pneumonia typically only found in immunosuppressed people. The doctors said this was consistent with a new disease that was popping up around the country – AIDS. Two weeks in ICU and a month in the hospital later, Tim survived the pneumonia that killed the majority of AIDs patients, but a few months later he developed cancer and started chemotherapy.
As I was finishing my PhD at this time, I had to decide what I wanted to do next. They had recently discovered the virus that causes AIDS – HIV, and Abbott was one of 5 companies that was to receive viral cultures from NIH to work on tests to protect the blood supply. All my work on Hepatitis B was the perfect set up to work on HIV – and I obviously had a lot of personal reasons to want to work on this virus. So I returned to Abbott, now in the research department, to do research for diagnostics tests for HIV. Unfortunately, Tim died 1 month later; he was 28 years old.
The other people in the department had already started work on an HIV Ab test that would be used to protect blood supply. I wanted to develop a test for the virus itself, and see if it was circulating in the bloodstream – even though the prevailing school of thought was that this would not be the case. I developed an ultrasensitive immunoassay and was able to demonstrate that HIV was indeed present in the bloodstream at various times throughout the disease, and this was significant because you could then:
1. Detect initial infection, which would have been useful for Tim’s 1st hospitalization when they could not determine what was wrong with him.
2. Detect viral re-emergence - since most patients, after becoming infected, entered an asymptomatic phase; but later something would trigger the virus to begin reproducing, which was a poor prognostic indicator, usually signaling the start of AIDS related diseases.
3. Monitor therapy – initial therapies were nucleoside analogues, and you could determine if the therapy was working by watching whether the level of circulating virus declined. However, most people also eventually developed drug resistance, so through monitoring for rising viral levels, you would then know to switch to a different therapy.
Abbott also had a Pharmaceutical division, and they were using computer-assisted drug design to develop small molecules that would inhibit the active site of the viral protease. However they needed a way to know which compounds were working. So we collaborated with them – since we were growing virus in culture and monitoring our cultures with the test I developed. We looked for compounds that would kill the virus in culture but leave the human cells healthy. This led to the initial protease inhibitors that were FDA approved and marketed. Though they were not in time for Tim, they changed the tide in the war against HIV infection so that AIDS was not a death sentence but a disease you could live with.
I spent 15 more years in the lab working on HIV and Hepatitis, then moved to business-side of things – though still supporting the work on HIV and Hepatitis. Later this also included work on the next generation nucleic acid tests using PCR to detect HIV, Hepatitis and other infectious diseases.
My career success then enabled me to honor Tim’s memory and his support of me by providing support to others through endowing a chair that will reside in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, with a joint appointment in the new College of Medicine, in the field of Infectious Disease and Immunology, in Tim’s name. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to be able to do this.
In closing I would like to leave you with these thoughts: Do something that means something to you; that you are passionate about. If you do that, it will, by definition, make you personally successful. When you are able to, honor the support that you have received to achieve that success by giving back – and continue the circle of support.
Now – Go do great things ! Thank you.
~~ Deborah A. Paul, Ph.D. received her Masters in Biology from the University of Illinois in 1979.
Posted June 14, 2016
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Emad Tajkhorshid receives Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant
In all, the Department of Defense awarded 23 studies a total of $162 million over the next five years for experimentation and analysis. Selected studies will benefit one of the Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or the Office of Naval Research.
“Over the past 30 years, the DoD’s MURI program has resulted in significant capabilities for our military forces and opened up entirely new lines of research,” Melissa L. Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for research, said in a press release. “Examples include advances in laser frequency combs that have become the gold standard in frequency control for precision in navigation and targeting; atomic and molecular self-assembly projects that have opened new possibilities for nano-manufacturing; and the field of spintronics, which emerged from a MURI award on magnetic materials and devices research.”