Jacobson recounts 40-year journey from basic science to drug discovery

Summer Undergraduate Research keynote concludes lab immersion for 32 college students

In his humorously titled but seriously informative presentation “Wandering 40 Years in the Desert,” Allan Jacobson, PhD, described the long, meandering path that can characterize a career in scientific research. His talk was the keynote for the Friday, Aug. 2, closing ceremony of the 2013 Combined Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity at UMass Medical School.

The 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity is designed to diversify the pool of biomedical researchers by providing structured, hands-on laboratory research experiences to undergraduate students, especially those from backgrounds under-represented in the field, or who are economically or educationally disadvantaged. Funding is provided by either the National Institutes of Health or UMMS. This year’s SUR class included 32 students from colleges in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and across the nation.

Dr. Jacobson, the Gerald L. Haidak, MD, and Zelda S. Haidak Professor of Cell Biology and chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems, studies the mechanisms of a molecular process dubbed nonsense mediated decay (NMD) in yeast. His findings prompted efforts to identify a drug compound that could suppress the process, which in humans causes genetic mutations associated with 2,400 diseases affecting hundreds of thousands of patients. The drug Ataluren, now entering human clinical trials, could potentially cure fatal diseases including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy.

“From NMD in yeast to nonsense alleles in human genes to a drug trial for a systemic oral therapy, this progression exemplifies clinical translational science,” Jacobson said.

Pictured here, Jacobson (second from right), and Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity co-directors Brian Lewis, PhD, and Deborah Harmon-Hines, PhD, congratulate first place poster presentation award winner Christopher Duncan-Lewis. Duncan-Lewis, a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted research in the laboratory of program host Pranoti Mandrekar, PhD.

 Allan Jacobson 2013 summer students