- OU Research Group Awarded $10.5 Million NIH Grant to Strengthen Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Structural Biology
- Zgurskaya Research Highlighted in Nature Medicine
- Charles Rice Attends Annual BIO Show
- Bayram Saparov Selected as the Ralph E. Powe Award Recipient
- Congressman Tom Cole Visits Rice Lab
- 2017 Award Recipients Recognized at Annual Spring Banquet
- C&EN Article Features Natural Products Roadkill Research
- Citizen Science Soil Collection Program Awarded Grant from The Kerr Foundation, Inc.
News 9 - Red Dirt Diaries
Dr. Robert Cichewicz
OU Regents Professor Robert Cichewicz was interviewed by OKC News 9 for their Red Dirt Diaries. This segment was quite appropriate given the focus on the Citizen Science Soil Collection project to provide soil fungi for natural products development.
Antibiotic Discovery Webinar: March 22nd
Dr. Helen Zgurskaya
Gram negative bacteria present an important medical challenge because their outer membrane protects them from many antibiotics. CDD is hosting an open webinar to discuss the latest scientific progress on understanding and circumventing this phenomenon. Please join us on March 22nd for this engaging discussion hosted by Brad Sherborne (Merck) with Derek Tan (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) and Helen Zgurskaya (University of Oklahoma).
OU Research Group Awarded $10.5 Million NIH Grant to Strengthen Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Structural Biology
A University of Oklahoma research team led by Ann West, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the OU College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a five-year, $10.5 million National Institutes of Health grant to support an Institutional Development Award Center of Biomedical Research Excellence. The IDeA program grant will allow for a greater understanding of human diseases and conditions associated with neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, stroke, chronic and acute bacterial infections. The objective of the grant awarded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences program is to continue to build and nurture research in structural biology.
“This is wonderful news for the university,” said OU President David L. Boren. This grant will enable our team to continue to strengthen an area which is already an area of strong excellence for the institution.”
The Oklahoma Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Structural Biology was established in 2012 with NIH Phase I COBRE funding. The center supports faculty research projects and three core facilities on the OU Norman and OU Health Sciences Center campuses for crystallization of macromolecules of biomedical importance, X-ray data collection, protein expression, and purification and biophysical analysis. Structural biology lies at the intersection of many different areas of biological sciences with the potential of impacting numerous biomedically-important fields.
“Speaking on behalf of the entire COBRE team, we are absolutely thrilled that the NIH has renewed our funding so that we can continue building on the successes made during Phase I and launch new exciting projects for our structural biology-oriented programs,” said West. “The productivity of the center was outstanding during Phase I (57 research publications and over $7 million in new grants awarded), so we expect to continue on this upward trajectory. I am very excited about the new Phase II grant since this will fund five major research projects, three research core facilities and will continue our strong collaborative ties between research groups on the OU Norman and OU Health Sciences Center campuses.”
The NIH Phase II grant will support research activities and career development of junior and early career investigators through senior mentorship and enhanced research infrastructure to compete successfully for external funding; continue to provide state-of-the-art research core facilities in support of structural biology researchers; and continue to promote and enhance the visibility of structural biology in the state of Oklahoma through COBRE–sponsored activities, such as symposia, workshops, pilot project program and undergraduate and graduate research and education programs.
For more information about the NIH COBRE grant awarded to the OU research group, contact West at firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding for this grant is supported by the IDeA program from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences under grant number P20GM103640-06.
Zgurskaya Research Highlighted in Nature Medicine
The leading scientific journal Nature Medicine recently highlighted groundbreaking research to facilitate discovery of new antibiotics by Professor Helen Zgurskaya’s research team at the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. An article by Nature Medicine’s Associate News Editor S. Chakradhar ”Breaking through: How researchers are gaining entry into barricaded bacteria,” featured the promising work by Professor Zgurskaya’s research team.
Zgurskaya’s team studies gram-negative bacteria, which currently top the World Health Organization's list of bacteria urgently requiring antibacterial research. Gram-negative bacteria live in our bodies, on our skin and in our environment and can cause a variety of infections that could be deadly if not treated with antibiotics. The major concern for public health is that some of these bacteria have become resistant to all available treatments resulting in increased illness and death from bacterial infections. In particular, clinicians are alarmed by the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli, which causes foodborne and urinary tract infections; Acinetobacter baumannii, which causes disease mainly in healthcare settings; Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes bloodstream infections and pneumonia in hospitalized patients and in patients with cystic fibrosis; Klebsiella pneumoniae, which causes many types of healthcare-associated infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections; Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, which is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States.
Professor Helen Zgurskaya has been all too familiar with the difficulties in treating gram-negative bacteria. She has established herself as a world leader in studying how bacteria use “efflux pumps” to expel antibiotics from cells before they fatally damage the bacteria. A key extension to these more established studies was her recent groundbreaking discovery of a new way to control bacterial defenses. As Chakradhar describes in the News Feature, Dr. Zgurskaya achieved a breakthrough while applying an antibiotic to bacteria that were modified to contain an additional large pore in their outer cell membrane. This modification allowed an established antibiotic, vancomycin, that is generally ineffective against gram-negative bacteria, to enter and persist long enough to kill the bacteria. By using a combination of methods, a door to the cell is kept open so even if the efflux pumps eject the antibiotics, they quickly seep back into and ultimately kill the bacteria.
Dr. Zgurskaya’s discovery should lead to more exciting developments in needed drug discovery for the treatment of often deadly gram-negative bacteria. This infusion of good news is especially important since a new class of antibiotics has not been approved for the market in more than three decades.
For more information about Dr. Zgurskaya’s research, please visit her research page on the OU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry website and read the Nature Medicine article “Breaking through: How researchers are gaining entry into barricaded bacteria”.
Charles Rice Attends Annual BIO Show
Associate Professor Charles Rice recently attended the annual BIO Show in San Diego alongside Blake Hopiavuori of the Office of Technology Development and Tom Kupiec, owner of Oklahoma City's Analytical Research Laboratories and DNA Solutions. Their intent is to increase the presence of Oklahoma and our research in both industry and academia. According to Kupiec, they’d like to see more public-private partnerships to further develop the future of the Innovation District.
Please visit the NewsOK website to view the full article, “Academia, industry combine to boost Oklahoma’s presence at annual BIO show”.
Bayram Saparov Selected as the Ralph E. Powe Award Recipient
Research proposed by Assistant Professor Bayram Saparov was recently recognized and earned him the Ralph E. Powe Award. His propasal titled, “Ternary Transition Metal Halide Semiconductors for Energy Applications” tackles some of the fundamental deficiencies of the CH3NH3PbI3-based photovoltaic materials for solar applications, including the presence of toxic heavy element Pb and instability of this material under ambient air, irradiation, and heat exposure. In collaboration with the scientists from Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratories and the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Saparov’s lab plans to synthesize a series of transition metal-based halide semiconductors, characterize crystal and electronic structures, and study their optoelectronic properties.
Dr. Saparov views this award as a gateway for OU graduate and undergraduate students to earn internships at ORNL, and potentially, for their career as postdoctoral researchers at ORNL. This grant will also be critical for establishing formal collaborative ties between ORNL groups and the Saparov Lab and will be the first step for larger future grant applications. Ultimately, preparation of inexpensive, abundant, non-toxic and easy to process semiconductors will advance the solar energy field toward the grand challenge of addressing the energy and environmental needs of the United States, which are among the national priorities, and serves the public interest by making solar energy economically viable and accessible to Americans, in line with the missions of ORAU and DOE’s SunShot Initiative.
The ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities) Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards is a nationally competitive seed grant aimed at fostering professional growth of junior faculty (within 2 years of their tenure track appointments) and initiating collaborative research projects (particularly with Oak Ridge National Laboratory) that result in new funding opportunities. The Powe Award application consists of two stages including an internal competition at ORAU member institutions (ORAU member institutions may submit only 2 applications), and a subsequent national competition. The Powe Award is a one-year $5,000 grant, which must be matched with at least an additional $5,000 by the applicant’s institution. In the 2016-17 academic year, a total of 35 grants were awarded to ORAU member institutions, which include 121 Sponsoring Institutions and 21 Associate Members.
Congressman Tom Cole Visits Rice Lab
On April 19th, US Congressman, Tom Cole, visited the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Congressman Cole was greeted by Dr. Ronald Halterman, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Kelly Damphousse, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Charles Rice, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Scott Mason, (OU Director of Federal Programs) and Melanie Dickens (Associate VPR for Research Operations).
Congressman Cole wished to learn more about Prof. Rice’s anti-MRSA research and interact with his students. Dr. Rice, accompanied by two graduate students, four First Year Research Experience (FYRE) students and a senior undergraduate researcher gave the Congressman a tour of the lab and spoke with him about how this research improves the health of our citizens.
Dr. Rice then escorted Congressman Cole to the labs of Dr. Helen Zgurskaya and Dr. Adam Duerfeldt who also work in the area of antibiotic discovery. Mr. Cole remarked that he truly enjoyed his interaction with the students and faculty and found his visit very informative.
2017 Award Recipients Recognized at Annual Spring Banquet
Departmental awards were presented at the Annual Spring Banquet on April 28, 2017. A complete list of the undergraduate and graduate student award recipients may be found on the Student Performance Awards page.
Congratulations to all award recipients!
C&EN Article Features Natural Products Roadkill Research
An unlikely subject provides a unique opportunity for Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor, Robert Cichewicz, to study the microbiome for potential drug candidates. Rather than relying on trapping and tranquilizing wild animals, Cichewicz chose to study recently deceased roadkill as part of his natural products research.
Teaming up with microbiologist, Bradley S. Stevenson, their studies have garnered the attention of many. Most recently, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) interviewed them to understand how they go about their research. For a closer look at their unique discovery process, please visit the C&EN website to read the article “Roadkill to Drug Discovery”.
Citizen Science Soil Collection Program Awarded Grant from The Kerr Foundation, Inc.
The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program, a public outreach initiative developed and directed by the Natural Products Discovery Group (http://npdg.ou.edu/), was recently awarded a grant from The Kerr Foundation, Inc. The objective of the program is to bring citizen scientists together with biomedical researchers to find new natural products from soil microorganisms. Having already recruited thousands of individuals from across Oklahoma and the nation, the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program is enriching natural product drug discovery research capabilities, while engaging the public in discussion about soil science, chemistry, and drug discovery. Project manager, Candace Coker, led the grant application process and states this is the first award of its kind for the program. The Kerr Foundation grant will contribute to the support and expansion of the program’s educational outreach in Oklahoma.
For more information about the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program, please visit http://whatsinyourbackyard.org.