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)
- DNA replication (Noguchi, Nickels)
- Transcription (Clifford, Bouchard)
- Signal transduction (Clifford, Bouchard, Reginato)
- Apoptosis (Bouchard, Reginato, Clifford), viral carcinogenesis (Bouchard, Clifford)
- DNA repair (Mazin, Clifford)
A second research theme is directed toward understanding structure-function relationships in biological macromolecules. This includes studies of:
- Membrane proteins (Loll, Chaiken,White)
- Receptor-ligand interactions (Chaiken, Loll, Jameson White)
- Enzymology and drug design (Jorns, Loll, Mazin, Chaiken, Jameson, White)
- Post-translational protein modifications (Clifford, Bouchard)
- Molecular-level studies of specific diseases, including HIV and hepatitis (Chaiken, Bouchard, Cocklin), diabetes (Jameson), sepsis (Loll), and neurodegenerative disease (Loll)
Another initiative that has arisen from this approach is in the development of small molecule inhibitors (Loll, Jameson, Chaiken, Mazin), including development of new antibiotics (Loll, Jorns, Jameson).