New approaches to undergraduate lab classes
Melissa Marquez, a second-year graduate student in Professor Deborah Perlstein’s group, has recently received a 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with a minor in mathematics from Mount Saint Mary’s University and as an undergraduate conducted research in Dr. Eric Stemp’s lab focusing on DNA-protein cross-linking resulting from oxidative damage to DNA. She was introduced to Boston by participating in Tufts University’s NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in the summer of 2013 and worked in Dr. Mitch McVey’s lab where she focused on determining the lethality stages in Drosophila melanogaster Werner Syndrome exonuclease mutants. Along with chemistry, Melissa enjoys serving others in their journey toward their science aspirations. She is currently a fellow for the BU NSF GK-12 Global Change Initiative (GLACIER) program where she works at Pierce School in Brookline with a 6th grade science teacher, an officer for BU Women in Chemistry, and a co-leader of the BU Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWSE) Girls with Goggles club, an outreach program that provides weekly hands-on activities for middle school girls.
Through the support of the NSF, Melissa aims to obtain a greater understanding of how iron cofactors are biosynthesized through the cytosolic iron sulfur cluster assembly (CIA) pathway. This system is responsible for iron sulfur (FeS) cluster biogenesis for proteins found outside of the mitochondria in eukaryotic organisms. Essential processes such as DNA replication and repair, transcription, and translation, are all dependent on at least one FeS cluster containing enzyme. A key question is: how are these DNA metabolizing enzymes, also termed targets, recognized by the CIA pathway? Melissa plans to discern the mechanism of CIA target recognition by investigating Cia2, a vital component of the CIA targeting complex known for executing target identification in the last step of the system. Not only is cluster targeting poorly understood for the CIA pathway, but it is not known how any cluster biogenesis pathway identifies its targets. By examining how targets are recognized, this work can provide a model for how target recognition is executed for other cluster biogenesis systems. Melissa is primarily interested in pursuing a career in which she can simultaneously work on innovative experimentations closely related to therapeutic development and reigniting students’ appreciation for deeper learning and, ultimately, love for science.
Dr. Sean Elliott Receives 4 Year National Institute of Health Grant to study “Structure, Function and Diversity in the Bacterial Cytochrome c Peroxidase Family”
The new grant will enable studies in the Elliott Group to dissect the way in which nature has made use of a common motif of bioinorganic chemistry, the iron-bearing structure known as a c-type heme, and to utilize it for diverse chemistry. While Elliott has a long-running interest in heme and redox chemistry, here the group studies the titular ‘bacterial cytochrome c peroxidase’ (or, bCCP) family of enzymes. While prototypical bCCPs are found in gram negative microorganisms where they detoxify endogenous or exogenous hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), the Elliott group has realized that there exist in microbes novel bCCPs which engage in unknown chemistry. In the work sponsored by the NIH, the Elliott group will use a combination of biochemistry, electrochemistry, spectroscopy and structural biology to elucidate the bCCPs found in under appreciated microbes, and attempt to rationalize why the enzymes work as they do.
The work to be supported is a team effort where the enzymes discovered and produced in the Elliott Group will be examined here at BU, but also in collaboration with structural biologists at MIT and spectroscopists at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan.
As bCCPs are enzymes on the front-line of the native defenses of NIH Select List pathogens including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Burkholderia complex species, Vibrio cholerae, Campylobacter jejuni, and Yersinia pestis, these studies will provide fundamental insight into the long-term development of new antimicrobial compounds that will target the novel features of bCCP structure.”
Dr. Elliott, who is also a two time recipient of the Scialog® Award Research Corporation (2010-2011), and received the 2007 Gitner Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2007 and an NSF CAREER Award in 2005 (among other honors), works with the Elliott Research Group to investigate the interplay between biological systems and redox-active species (e.g., metal ions, organic radicals, disulfide bonds, reactive oxygen species). Their emphasis is on the kinetic and thermodynamic basis for catalytic redox chemistry, as well as the molecular basis of how nature tune redox cofactors do the hard work of Life.
Dr. Arturo Vegas was recently featured in BU Today for his research into Type 1 Diabetes. The full article is called “New Targets to Treat Type 1 Diabetes” and there’s an excerpt from the article by Barbara Moran is below.
“Type 1 diabetes is rare but devastating. A person’s own immune system attacks the pancreas, destroying insulin-producing tissue and the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. About five percent of people with diabetes—approximately 1.25 million Americans—have this form of the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. Unregulated blood sugar can lead to blindness, kidney failure, and death.
Scientists aren’t sure what causes type 1 diabetes, though they suspect that a genetic predisposition, combined with an environmental trigger, causes a sudden disruption in the immune system that causes it to attack the body’s own tissue. The only treatment is a lifetime of careful blood sugar monitoring, with insulin injections as needed.
But what if there were a way to block the immune system before the damage was done, preserving at least some of the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin? That’s the goal of Arturo Vegas, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of chemistry, whose lab combines biology, chemistry, materials science, and engineering to develop targeted therapies for complex diseases like diabetes. He recently was awarded a prestigious $1.4 million Type 1 Diabetes Pathfinder Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue the work.”
Congratulations Dr. Vegas!
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named Professor Catherine Costello a 2016 AAAS Fellow for her distinguished contributions to mass spectrometry.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, an international non-profit with a mission to promote, defend and support science as method to improve humankind.
Founded in 1848, AAAS serves 272 affiliated societies and academies of science throughout the world and publishes the peer-reviewed general science journal Science.
One of the group’s unique contributions to public science in the United States is its fellowship program, by which it selects and places PhDs, medical doctors, and engineers from various technical disciplines and sectors throughout the U.S. Government for one to two years through a highly competitive process.
Catherine Costello came to Boston University in 1994. That year she established the Center for Biomedical Mass Spectrometry, which has become an internationally recognized research center. She holds her primary appointment in the MED Biochemistry Department, with secondary appointments in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics and the Department of Chemistry. Her research, which focuses on determining the structures and functions of biologically important polymers, has revolutionized an important area of biochemistry by providing insights into the structures of molecules responsible for human disease. She is the author or co-author of more than 300 scientific papers, serves on a number of editorial boards of major journals, and has received numerous awards and honors, including the current AAAS Fellow award and the 2010 Field and Franklin Award from the American Chemical Society, one of the highest honors in her field.
Congratulations Dr. Costello!
On October 5th, 2016 Dr. Arturo Vegas, who is a leader in the development of targeted therapies, discussed the recent progress to overcome challenges in the field including the development of automated insulin dosing, the production of mature insulin-producing cells from human stem cells, and new materials that can be used to prevent the rejection of transplanted insulin-producing tissue to the Coalition for the Life Sciences Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus.
Lynn Marquis, the Director of the Coalition for the Life Sciences Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus, invited Dr. Vegas to present his exciting research on Type 1 diabetes to a varied group of Congressional Representatives from across the country.
Type 1 diabetes, formally known as juvenile diabetes, is a disease characterized by the inability of patients to produce their own insulin hormone. It currently afflicts an estimated three million Americans. While a rigorous regimen of blood glucose monitoring coupled with daily injections of insulin remains the leading treatment, diabetics still suffer ill effects due to challenges with daily compliance and imperfect blood glucose control. The technologies Dr. Vegas is researching and discussed are bringing us closer than ever to mitigating this disease and improving the quality of life for these patients.
“The words of Sir Winston Churchill are applicable regarding the impact of their significant advances on a potential cure for diabetes: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.’” –Stock et al. Cell Stem Cell 18: 431-433. 2016
Watch his presentation here: “Are We Close to a Cure for Type 1 Diabetes?” – Arturo Vegas Presents to CBRC
Dr. Reinhard recently received 3 Years of research funding for his proposal titled: “OP: Plasmonic Enhancement of Chiral Forces for Enantiomer Separation.”
An object is chiral if it cannot be mapped to its mirror image by rotations and translations alone. Chiral molecules can exist a priori in two nonsuperimposable mirror images, that is, enantiomeric forms. Enantiomers can differ in their chemical behavior and reactivity, which can have drastic consequences. In drugs, for instance, one enantiomer may have a desired physiologic effect, while the other enantiomer can be inactive or even harmful. The most infamous example is thalidomide (“contergan”), for which one enantiomer is an effective sedative, whereas the other is teratogen. Administration of the racemic mix to pregnant women led to the birth of thousands of children with malformed limbs. This example illustrates the need for highly sensitive detection and especially separation of chiral biomolecules in research and drug development.
The proposal will help develop a new general separation scheme that uses chiral light matter interactions enhanced by resonant plasmonic antennas to separate enantiomers through discriminatory chiral forces acting on different enantiomers. The new technique will have important analytical and preparative applications. It will facilitate both to monitor the enantiomeric purity of chiral species and provide the means to separate enantiomeric or diastereomeric mixtures.
Congratulations to Dr. Reinhard and his Group on this award!
Dr. Arturo Vegas was awarded 5 years of research support from the National Institute of Health through the New Innovator Award for his proposal entitled “Targeted Immunomodulation of the Diabetic Islet Microenvironment.”
His interest in the project springs for the fact there are currently no effective treatments for the autoimmunity that causes type 1 diabetes. Generalized immunosuppressive therapies are impractical for long-term care, and there remains a critical need to develop targeted therapies to treat diabetes-causing autoimmunity. To address this important challenge to the treatment of type 1 diabetes, this research focuses on the development of novel islet-targeted conjugates, nanomaterials, and targeting ligands to localize immunosuppressive agents to the islet microenvironment and enable drug release upon the onset of islet inflammation.
Dr. Arturo Vegas is a 2016 Peter Paul Career Development Professorship Recipient
Boston University’s Chemistry Department is proud to announce that Professor Arturo Vegas has been selected as one of this year’s three recipients of the 2016-2017 Peter Paul Career Development Professorships at Boston University.
The awards highlight the caliber, potential, and continued vitality of Boston University’s diverse faculty and include a three-year, non-renewable stipend designed to support scholarly or creative work, as well as a portion of the recipients’ salaries. Peter Paul Career Development Professorships are awarded University-wide.
This year’s Career Development Professorship recipients have all been cited for their extraordinary accomplishments in their areas of study, their passion for the creation and transmission of knowledge, their efforts to enhance the student experience, and, most importantly, for their potential to develop into outstanding faculty members, this prestigious award is intended to help young faculty launch their promising careers by providing partial support for three years of the recipient’s research activities. The significance of Arturo’s efforts “to develop novel chemical tools, materials, and approaches for targeting therapeutics to diseased tissues, with an emphasis on cancer and diabetes” and his potential to develop into an outstanding faculty member at BU are recognized by the receipt of this award.
For more information about Arturo and his research check out his Faculty Page
Congratulations to Dr. Vegas!
The Department of Energy has award Dr. Sean Elliott a 3 Year renewal of funding for his research titled “Tuning Directionality for CO2 Reduction in the Oxo-acid:ferredoxin Oxidoreductase Superfamily.”
The renewal of funding will help Professor Elliott and his research group continue studying CO2 reductions. Enzymes that achieve CO2 reduction are highly powerful catalysts; yet very little is known about how they work, nor how they can be tuned to favor CO2 reduction chemistry. Through the completion of the project, this knowledge gap will be addressed in the context of the enzymatic chemistry of the oxo-acid:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (OFOR) superfamily, which is capable of CO2 reduction. Professor Elliott and his group believe that their studies of the OFOR superfamily will reveal the molecular details of how nature biases the reactivity of an enzyme to preferentially reduce CO2. These efforts will yield foundational knowledge that will be broadly applicable to marrying the thermodynamics of redox reactions to atomistic information of enzymatic mechanism.
Congratulations to Professor Elliott and his research group on their excellent work. For more information about Professor Elliott’s research please visit the Elliott Group Page.