By Katinka I Csigi
Professor Mark Grinstaff and postdoctoral scientist, Dr. Aaron Colby, have received a 2015 Ignition Award from the BU Office of Technology Development to develop a nanoparticle-based drug delivery system for the treatment of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops from cells of the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers many of the internal organs of the body.
The purpose of the Ignition Awards program is to validate early-stage projects with clear commercial and medical potential. This project was selected because, to date, there is no effective cure for mesothelioma and there is no way to prevent local recurrence. In this research, the Grinstaff group is developing a novel nanoparticle-based drug delivery system for localizing intraperitoneally administered chemotherapy directly to the site of established disease that remains following surgical resection procedures. The result is increased tumor-tissue drug concentrations and, subsequently, reduced recurrence and improved patient survival.
Since its establishment in 2007, the Ignition Awards Program has funded 46 project. Of these projects, 10 have been developed by Chemistry faculty.
Three undergraduate students from the early 1970’s met their research advisor, Professor Emeritus Morton Z. Hoffman, and his wife, Sandy, recently for dinner at the Post 390 restaurant in Boston. The students were co-authors with him on a publication, “Generation of Radicals in the Charge-Transfer Photochemistry of Coordination Complexes of Cobalt(III) in Aqueous Solution,” J. Phys. Chem., 78, 686-691 (1974).
Deborah (Campano) German (CAS ‘72) was also a student in Hoffman’s CH101-102 lecture section in 1968-69. She received an M.D. degree from Harvard University and is now Dean of the College of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She was married to fellow chemistry alumnus, Larry German (CAS ‘72), who passed away some time ago.
Evan (Rick) Kantrowitz (CAS ‘71), who took CH111-112 with Professor John Endicott in 1967-68, just retired as Professor Emeritus after a 37-year career in the Department of Chemistry of Boston College. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University with Bill Lipscomb as his research supervisor. His wife, Ellen, accompanied him.
Marc Weinberg (CAS ‘74, MED ‘77) was also in Hoffman’s CH101-102 class in 1970-71. He is President of Marc Weinberg M.D. Personal Healthcare, Ltd. in Providence, Clinical Professor of Medicine at B.U. Medical School, and a member of the faculty at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. He is a recipient of the CAS Distinguished Alumni Award. His wife, Lori, attended with him.
The Department of Chemistry would like to share the great news that Professor Adrian Whitty has received tenure. Adrian Whitty has taken a non-traditional route to an academic research and teaching career. He joined the Department in April 2008 at the level of Associate Professor without tenure. He came to BU after 14 years of research at the biotechnology company, Biogen (Cambridge MA), where he rose to the position of Director in the Drug Discovery Department. Since joining the Department of Chemistry, Professor Whitty has established a strong, interdisciplinary research program in important areas of quantitative physical biochemistry. His research at Biogen served as the foundation for his current studies in the activation mechanisms of growth factor receptors and the biophysical nature of protein-protein interactions, which are highly important to the development of small-molecule therapeutics. Professor Whitty’s program is distinctive in that it brings quantitative analysis to the study of biological problems that traditionally have been approached using qualitative approaches.
A recipient of the Templeton Prize for Excellence in Student Advising (2011), Adrian Whitty is an outstanding teacher and mentor for graduate and undergraduate students. He has successfully launched the careers of graduate and postdoctoral associates alike. He is also an integral member of the Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry (MCBB) Program, the Bioinformatics Program, and the Biomolecular Engineering Research Center.
Adrian Whitty received his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from King’s College, University of London (B.Sc., hon) in 1995, and his M.S. (1988) and Ph.D. (1991) in Organic Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Chicago. He carried out his postdoctoral studies (1990-1993) at Brandeis University in the laboratory of Professor William P. Jencks. He subsequently joined Biogen where he held the positions of Scientist II, Protein Engineering Department (1993 – 1998), Senior Scientist, Drug Discovery Department (1999 – 2002), Associate Director & Head, Physical Biochemistry (2003 – 2007), and Director, Physical Biochemistry (2007- 2008). Since coming to BU, he has been successful in obtaining support from the National Institutes of Health and from various sponsors in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.
Professor Linda Doerrer and fourth year graduate student, Steven Hannigan, were chosen as recipients of a Boston University Ignition Award. This program provides funds to validate early-stage research projects with clear commercial potential.
The Doerrer group has determined that a fully fluorinated copper(II) compound can electrocatalytically reduce nitrate in water. Such a technology would be extremely relevant to today’s market for water treatment systems because it addresses an increasingly significant environmental problem. Nitrate is a common component in all man-made fertilizers and is, therefore, increasingly found in all salt- and fresh-water bodies. The nitrate is a fertilizing food source for microorganisms whose excessive growths are called harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can lead to aqueous “dead zones” in rivers, seas, and lakes that can be seen from satellites.
The Ignition Award Program was launched in 2007 by the Boston University Office of Technology Development. Since then, it has issued 46 awards, 10 of which have been given to Chemistry faculty to advance their innovative ideas.
Chemistry faculty, John Snyder and Binyomin Abrams, in conjunction with colleagues in the Departments of Biology (Kathryn Spilios and John “Chip” Celenza) and Neuroscience (Paul Lipton and Lucia Pastorino) have successfully proposed ideas to develop integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses for first and second year biology, chemistry, and neuroscience students. Jointly funded by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching, and the College of Arts and Sciences, these interdisciplinary course development grants aim to promote faculty and student collaboration across disciplines in support of innovative, research-oriented undergraduate laboratory education. The new courses that are being developed, Integrated Science Experience 1 (ISE 1) (for second semester freshmen) and ISE 2 (for first semester sophomores), will facilitate students making connections across biology, chemistry, and neuroscience early in their undergraduate careers. Such interdisciplinary insights will better prepare for advanced courses and undergraduate research. Developed in 2015, the courses are anticipated to start in the Spring 2016, and Fall 2016 terms, respectively.
Every year, as the academic year draws to a close, Boston University honors a number of faculty for their outstanding work in the classroom and with their students with the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. This year, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, Dr. Binyomin Abrams, has received Boston University’s top teaching award.
Dr. Abrams investment in the advancement of his students influences all of his activities as an educator, including making chemical education his primary research pursuit. In his second year at BU, he received the College of Arts and Science’s 2010 Templeton Prize for Excellence in Student Advising. In the area of chemical education, he has developed, both with colleagues and independently, a number of programs to improve Boston University’s level of chemical education and to provide his students with the best possible science learning experience. This year, he and colleagues in Chemistry, Biology, and Neuroscience successfully competed for Office of the Provost grants to develop integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses for first and second year Biology, Chemistry, and Neuroscience students. These interdisciplinary course development grants will generate faculty and student collaboration across disciplines in support of innovative undergraduate education.
Dr. Abrams received his PhD from New York University and does research in molecular dynamics with a focus on the development of computational models for biomimetic foldamers. In the area of education, he has developed and run the BU Chemical Writing Program, which introduces Chemistry students to research-based writing in the context of inquiry-based chemistry laboratory courses. Additional projects have included the development of workshops to help incoming undergraduates succeed in the sciences; preparing hybrid, partially “flipped” activities for out-of-class student engagement in introductory chemistry courses; and the continued expansion of the freshman year chemistry lab alternatives to the honors freshman chemistry lab.
Dr. Abrams is the sixth Chemistry faculty recipient since the award was established in 1974. Previous recipients have included:
Professor Emeritus Richard Laursen‘s research on the analysis of vegetable dyes has taken him to many parts of the world. Using high-performance liquid chromatography with diode array and mass spectrometric detection, his work has helped to identify the plant sources of many of the colors used in ancient textile fibers and given insights into the stability of colors over time. His research expertise first took him to Iran in 2005, where he had the opportunity to examine antique rugs in the private collection of Miri Iranian Knots, a leading producer of handmade rugs since 1820.
This April, Professor Laursen returned to Iran to give a lecture on the “Analysis of Dyes in Ancient Textiles” at several universities and museums in Iran, including Islamic Azad University, Scientific Research Branch (Tehran); Islamic Azad University, Zanjan Branch (Zanjan); University of Zanjan (Zanjan); Tabriz Islamic Art University (Tabriz); Astan Quds Razavi Museum (Mashhad); and the Hakim Sabzevari University (Sabzevar). Professor Laursen noted many changes in the decade since he last went to Iran, including the increasing number of women college students.
Dr. Sarah Chobot Hokanson, who was a Chemistry major (CAS ’05) doing undergraduate research with Professor Sean Elliott, has returned to BU as Director of the newly launched Professional Development and Postdoctoral Affairs. Sarah and her new role are profiled in BU Today’s in-depth article “Helping Postdocs Take Charge of their Lives” (Sara Rimer). The article also details Sarah’s plans for assisting BU graduate students and postdoctoral fellows launch successful careers.
A highly trained scientist in her own right (PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, 2010, and NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell, 2010-2012), Sarah started her own non-traditional science career path at the British Consulate-General in Boston as a senior officer for the Science and Innovation Network). Now back at BU, her real-time views can be followed on her twitter account.
2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award recipient, George Pantelopulos, has joined Chemistry to do his proposed graduate research in theoretical chemistry with Prof. John Straub and his group. George aims to model the kinetics of phase transitions in a system of components (lipids and cholesterol) commonly found in eukaryotic cell membranes using the Generalized ReplicaExchange Method (gREM) developed by the Straub group and constructing a Markov State Model (MSM) of a mixed bilayer. George believes that his study will yield a statistically detailed model of the thermodynamics and kinetics of mixed bilayer phases, something which has been sought for years via experimental techniques and previously out-of-reach for standard simulation methods.
George is no stranger to BU Chemistry. In 2013 he was one of the 10 students selected for Chemistry’s NSF site Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. At the time, he was at the Community College of Philadelphia. During his summer REU program here, he helped to synthesize nanohoops of high electron density, which were hypothesized to serve as high performance coatings for solar cells. In Fall 2013 he transferred to Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), where he did research with Prof. Vincent Voelz on simulation studies of the p53-MDM2 complex. MDM2 is an ubiquitin ligase protein which downregulates the tumor suppressor protein p53. As such, inhibition of the p53-MDM2 complex is a major goal in targeted cancer therapy research.
In addition to chemistry, George’s interests are broad and varied. He has a strong commitment to community service and have volunteered with such organizations as TeenSHARP, a weekend educational program for minority students in Philadelphia and Camden schools, where he was a science instructor and Habitat for Humanity.
The Director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group for Consumer Reports, Dr. Urvashi Rangan, was the Distinguished Alumni Speaker at this year’s Chemistry Convocation (May 16, 2015). Dr. Rangan received her BA in Chemistry from Boston University in 1990, doing undergraduate research in organic chemistry with Prof. John Snyder. She received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from Johns Hopkins University in 1995 and did postdoctoral work at the Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute (Rutgers University). She was an NIH fellow from 1990-97.
A noted environmental health scientist, Dr. Rangan has a column in Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine and also serves as a top spokesperson for Consumer Reports in the areas of sustainable production and consumption practices. She has a wide area of expertise, including organic standards, food safety issues, environmental pollution, toxics in consumer products, and environmental health concerns and has appeared in numerous national broadcast outlets. Her expertise is called upon to respond to breaking product safety news, speak on behalf of CU investigative test stories, and to discuss production problems and consumer solutions around a wide range of sustainability topics including food safety issues, organic food, risky ingredients in personal care products, misleading labels, electronics recycling, and energy efficiency for household products.
At the Consumers Union, which she joined in 1999, she has been responsible for managing risk analysis, policy assessments, label evaluations and consumer advice for tests, reports, and related advocacy work. She developed the ratings system, database, and Web site, Eco-labels.org, for evaluating environmental and food labels. In 2005, she managed the launch of GreenerChoices,org, which covers green aspects over a wide range of products and services. To “meet” Dr. Rangan, please go to her 2012 TEDxManhattan talk, “From fables to labels.”