The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is dedicated to the education of medical and graduate students in biochemistry, molecular biology and nutrition, research training in these areas, and discovery through cutting-edge research in the broad discipline of biochemistry. Biochemistry research is globally directed toward understanding cellular processes at the molecular level, and has traditionally encompassed studies of biomolecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.
Biochemistry research at the College of Medicine is in part driven by analytical technologies and instrumentation, such as protein production and purification, spectroscopy, structure analysis, mass spectrometry, and biosensor-based protein-protein interaction analysis. Molecular and cell biology are the major experimental approaches that complement biochemistry and enable the elucidation of cellular processes at the biochemical level.
Through major recruitment over the past seven years, the department consists of 17 faculty, including four full-time educators and 13 independent laboratory heads, bringing in almost $5 million in total grant support per year. The research focus of the department is in two general areas, cancer biology and macromolecular structure-function. My vision was to develop two to three cohesive themes uniting the diverse interests of the four founding laboratories (Jorns, Jameson, Nickels and Clifford). The underlying principles in rebuilding the department plan have been:
- There is tremendous power in applying diverse approaches to a scientific problem, specifically the application of different biochemical and structural analyses to questions relating to cellular processes
- Research development should be focused on human disease
- Knowledge about basic biochemical processes will lead to new therapies
Research at the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
The major disease focus has been cancer. Cancer is a multifaceted disease, and basic biochemical/molecular research on a broad range of cellular processes has been extremely powerful in understanding cancer biology—from transformation, to metastasis, to response to treatment; hence cancer biology is a "big tent" under which many disparate areas of inquiry can be united and focused.
The cancer biology research program has particular emphasis on:
- Control of cell proliferation (Clifford, Noguchi, Reginato)
- Signal transduction (Clifford, Bouchard, Reginato)
- DNA replication and repair (Berkowitz, Clifford, Mazin, Noguchi)
- Cancer metabolism (Reginato, Bouchard)
- Transcription (Clifford, Bouchard, Reginato, Noguchi, Somarowthu)
- Apoptosis (Bouchard, Reginato, Clifford), viral carcinogenesis (Bouchard, Clifford)
- Viral carcingogenesis (Bouchard, Clifford)
A second research theme is directed toward understanding structure-function relationships in biological macromolecules. This includes studies of:
- Membrane proteins (Loll, Chaiken)
- Cytoskeleton and signal integration (Padrick)
- Receptor-ligand interactions (Chaiken, Loll)
- Enzymology and drug design (Jorns, Loll, Mazin, Chaiken, Cocklin)
- Post-translational protein modifications (Clifford, Bouchard, Noguchi, Reginato, Strochlic)
- Molecular-level studies of specific diseases, including HIV and hepatitis (Chaiken, Abrams, Bouchard, Cocklin), malaria (Vaidya), sepsis (Loll), neurodegenerative disease (Loll, Saunders), aging (Noguchi, Sell), and infertility and developmental defects (Berkowitz, Strochlich)
Another initiative that has arisen from this approach is in the development of small molecule inhibitors (Jorns, Loll, Cocklin, Chaiken, Mazin), including development of new antibiotics (Loll, Jorns).
Meet Our Faculty – Eishi Noguchi, PhD
"I am interested in DNA damage response. One example of DNA damage is when you go outside, you are exposed to ultraviolet rays (UV). You might enjoy the sunshine but the UV cuts your DNA. When you drink alcohol, it converts into something very toxic that also cuts your DNA. That is acetaldehyde, which also causes hangovers. I'm interested in how our bodies fix that kind of DNA damage..."
Read more from Dr. Noguchi
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News & Announcements
Lina Maciunas to Give Discovery Day Presentation
Lina Maciunas, a biochemistry graduate student, was one of five platform presenters to be highlighted in a news article about the College of Medicine's annual day of research, Discovery Day. Read the article.
Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Irwin Chaiken, PhD, wants to stop HIV before it can take hold in the body. As a protein scientist, he focuses on the entry mechanism of the virus into cells. "I realized that if we could reveal the fundamental properties of the virus protein machine, we might figure out a way to stop the entry itself," he says. Read more.
One reason Simon Cocklin, PhD, enjoys studying HIV is because he sees the virus as a threshold into a world of possibilities. "Every time we learn something, it not only redefines HIV biology, but usually it also has broad implications for biochemistry and biology as a whole," he says. Today he is an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, but Cocklin started his career as a postdoctoral student working for Irwin Chaiken. Fascinated by the virus and its ways of evading the immune system, Cocklin was hooked and ended up making HIV a focus of his own research career. Read more.
2019 Golden Apple Awards
Several of the department's faculty were recognized for excellence in teaching and outstanding service at the 2019 Golden Apple Award Ceremony. Michael White received an award from the Class of 2022 for teaching in the Foundations of Basic Science curriculum. Other Golden Apple nominees included Bradford Jameson and Todd Strochlich.
2018 Faculty Awards
Congratulations to Mauricio Reginato, PhD, recipient of the Elias Abrutyn Mentoring Award. See all 2018 faculty awardees.
On April 10, faculty and staff were recognized for excellence in teaching and outstanding service at the 2018 Golden Apple Award Ceremony.
Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics PhD Maya Rao recently published "Interaction between the AAA+ ATPase p97 and its cofactor ataxin3 in health and disease: Nucleotide-induced conformational changes regulate cofactor binding" in the November issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. (February 2018)
In the Media
February 26, 2020: Christian Sell, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, led research into the use of rapamycin to treat skin aging that was featured in MIT Technology Review's article on “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2020.”
December 11, 2019: Christian Sell, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and colleagues recently published research showing a possible new use for Rapamycin — as a way to slow skin aging. The findings were covered by Medical News Bulletin and Gilmore Health News.
November 26, 2019: Christian Sell, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was quoted in United Press International, Specialty Medical Dialogues and Medical Life Sciences about his research exploring the use of rapamycin, a drug typically used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients, to reduce signs of skin aging. His research and findings were also covered in Economic Times Healthworld, ScienceBlog, McKnights Long-Term Care News, Medical News Today and Derm City.
June 16, 2017: Alexander Mazin, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was quoted in a TrendinTech story about his recent study that found how a protein is vital in RNA-dependent DNA repair.
May 11, 2016: Irwin Chaiken, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was quoted in a Philadelphia Gay News story about his research team's receipt of a Campbell Foundation grant to study new treatments for HIV.
May 4, 2016: Irwin Chaiken, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, was mentioned in a post on the POZ Magazine website about receiving a Campbell Foundation grant to study a treatment that targets HIV reservoirs.
See all College of Medicine faculty in the Media
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