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Chemical Biology

What is Chemical Biology?

At its heart, the discipline of chemical biology uses the power of chemistry to explore living organisms. Chemical biology experiments often use chemicals specifically designed to inhibit, activate, or report on the function of biomolecules. Increasingly, these tools are being applied to probe and perturb biological functions in the complex environment of whole animals.

Some chemical biology labs focus on the chemical side of tool development, where the emphasis is on the design and synthesis of molecular structures with the desired properties for querying biological systems. Other labs focus on one or more biological problems, but make frequent use of chemical tools to help understand particular biological functions on a molecular level. The highly collaborative and collegial UMMS environment fosters the entire spectrum of chemical biology, from basic tool development to rigorous application in animal models.

Chemical Biology at UMMS

The breadth of chemical biology research at UMMS is impressive. The lab of Tony Carruthers uses chemical tools to study the function of glucose transporters. Gang Han’s lab develops novel nanomaterials for imaging and drug delivery. The Kobertz lab designs and uses chemical biology tools to probe the function of ion channels. Bob Matthews’ lab studies how proteins fold and how misfolding contributes to neurodegenerative disease. Stephen Miller’s lab uses the bioluminescent light of the firefly to probe gene expression and enzyme function in live cells and animals. Celia Schiffer’s lab studies how HIV protease inhibitors become drug resistant and seeks to design new inhibitors that the virus cannot evade. Paul Thompson’s lab studies the post-translational modification of arginine and its role in disease. Anastasia Khvorova’s and Jon Watts’ labs develop synthetic RNA analogs and conjugates that promise to improve current antisense and RNAi human therapies. Each of these labs collaborates extensively with colleagues at UMMS and beyond to extend their chemical biology research to important problems in biology and human health.

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