Research Programs in the Department of Biochemistry

The Department features research and training in 4 key technologies that form the core of modern biochemistry:

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics/Genomics
  • Proteomics/Metabolomics

The Fundamental Questions

Research at the Department of Biochemistry at Wake Forest School of Medicine is focused in four inter-related areas that address fundamentally important biological questions:

  • Signal transduction in cancer, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease
  • DNA repair and defense against cellular damage
  • Redox biology
  • Metabolic diseases

Our Principal Research Programs

Below are descriptions of the three principal research programs in the Department of Biochemistry:

Proteins: Structure, Function and Genetics

A rapidly-growing research strength within the Department of Biochemistry concerns structural, functional, and genetic studies of proteins and enzymes.

With an emphasis on faculty recruitment over the last 2 years, the number of faculty members with research interests in this area has recently gone from 8 to 12 X-ray crystallographers. All of these Biochemistry faculty are members of the Molecular Genetics Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Members of this group also interact regularly with faculty from the Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry divisions of the Department of Chemistry and from the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, and 2 of the bioorganic chemists also serve as faculty associates in Biochemistry.

Within the Department of Biochemistry, members of this group have been successful in initiating and establishing Core Facilities for Biomolecular Modeling and Graphics, FPLC purification of recombinant proteins, Rapid Reaction Kinetics and Spectroscopy, Time-Resolved Fluorescence, Dynamic Light Scattering, and Analytical Ultracentrifugation.

The department has also recently established new facilities for high resolution structural characterization of macromolecules, including facilities for x-ray crystallography and high field NMR, and a tandem quadrapole mass spectrometer.

Lipids Involved in Signal Transduction and Lipid: Protein Interactions

One of the major research strengths in the Department of Biochemistry lies in the wealth of expertise regarding lipid-mediated signal transduction processes, lipid: protein interactions, and lipoprotein function and metabolism.

This section describes the research programs of 7 faculty members in the Department. Four actively participate in the Inflammation and Signal Transduction Program of the Basic Science Division of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and also serve as faculty members for the Signal Transduction Mechanisms and Cell Function training program funded by an institutional NIH training grant.

This program is characterized by a number of productive collaborations involving these individuals and faculty members in the Department of Microbiology/Immunology and in the Sections on Infectious Disease, Hematology/Oncology, and Pulmonary Critical Care of the Department of Internal Medicine.

Three faculty associates in Biochemistry also serve as members of this interdisciplinary training program.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology students choosing to complete their thesis research in this program participate in joint weekly lab group meetings and most also attend the annual Southeastern Regional Lipid Meeting held each fall in Cashiers, North Carolina.

The program sponsors an annual research tutorial presented by a prominent scientist in the general area of proliferative signal transduction and cancer research. The lipoprotein research programs of the Department of Biochemistry primarily involve 3 faculty members who collaborate extensively with investigators in the Department of Pathology, Section on Comparative Medicine and in the Sections on Endocrinology/Metabolism and Gastroenterology of the Department of Internal Medicine. One of these Biochemistry faculty members participates in an institutional NIH training program on Cardiovascular Pathology, and five faculty associates in Biochemistry interact closely with the lipoprotein research groups.

Cancer and the Molecular Basis of Disease

The third principal research focus in the Department of Biochemistry involves programs devoted to the molecular, nutritional, and genetic bases for cancer and other common chronic human diseases. Seventeen faculty members in Biochemistry (of which 6 have their primary interests in this area) pursue research linked to human diseases, and most interact closely with the programs in (1) Cell Growth and Survival and (2) DNA Damage and Cellular Defenses of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and the recently established Center for Research on Human Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Many of these individuals are also members of the Molecular Genetics Program.

A broad spectrum of technical approaches utilizing the tools of enzymology, molecular biology, and genetics is being used to understand the origins of diseases which are common in our population. Among the studies underway are analyses of the inheritance of diabetes and cancer, mechanisms of resistance to toxic chemicals including carcinogens, anticancer drugs, and reactive oxygen species, and the molecular basis of altered mitochondrial function associated with chronic alcohol consumption and inherited diseases linked to altered amino acid metabolism.

Faculty members in this research area collaborate in a wide variety of studies with investigators in basic sciences and clinical faculties at WFSM and both nationally and internationally. These investigations include basic research into the metabolism of drugs and environmental toxins, apoptosis, analyses of metabolism and gene regulation in normal and cancer cells, and direct diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, and other disorders in humans by molecular genetic and immunological techniques.

Last Updated: 06-02-2014
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