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UNC BIOCHEMISTRY & BIOPHYSICS

2015 Year in Review

Aziz Sancar - 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Chair's Welcome - Leslie Parise, PhD

This has been a year of amazing accomplishment for our department. We are thrilled to recognize the achievements of our faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, staff and alumni. Most notably, we are especially proud of Dr. Aziz Sancar and his receipt of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and are honored to help celebrate his success. We hope you enjoy reading our newsletter and we look forward to hearing from you.
NOBEL PRIZE HIGHLIGHTS
Chancellor Folt, Aziz, and Paul Modrich at Nov 6th UNCvDuke football game. (photo courtesy of UNC Athletics)
Aziz receives special recognition from Chancellor Folt during University Day on October 12th. (photo courtesy of UNC-CH)
On October 8th, the Department celebrated Aziz Sancar's Nobel prize honor with a special gathering of our department colleagues and friends. At the event, faculty, past alum, and friends congratulated Aziz for his crowning achievement. Aziz spent the better part of that afternoon humbly bombarded by well-wishes and photo-ops.
Aziz receives a key to the city from Chapel Hill mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt during the Nov. 23 town council meeting. (photo courtesy of Cat Lazarko, Town of Chapel Hill)
The Turkish Post has commemorated Aziz with a postage stamp that debuted December 10. Learn more: http://bit.ly/22aLQMB (photo courtesy of PTT.GOV.TR)
Watch Video from AP: "How a Nobel Winner Got the Call"
Watch Video from UNC: The Nobel Prize Press Conference
Watch Video from Embassy of Sweden: Nobel Symposium
Watch Video from Town of Chapel Hill: The Key to the City
Watch Video from UNC: "The Man Behind the Nobel"
Watch Video from Nobel Media: Sancar Lecture 2015
Watch Video from Nobel Media: Prize Ceremony 2015
Watch Video from Sveriges TV: The Nobel Minds 2015
NOTABLE NEWS & RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS
Aziz Sancar receives 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his groundbreaking work for mechanistic studies of DNA repair.
 
New leadership for UNC Biophysics: Brian Kuhlman, PhD is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics who this summer assumed the co-directorship, along with Kevin Slep, PhD, associate professor of biology, of the UNC program in molecular and cellular biophysics. The program is a NIH funded training program for quantitative and physical biology that provides mentoring and training to graduate students pursuing studies in the biophysical sciences. Barry Lentz, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics is the emeritus director of the program. Barry’s efforts in cultivating and stewarding the training program at UNC garnered him a 2014 honorary member of the Frank Porter Graham Honor Society for his distinguished service to graduate education at UNC and the 2011 UNC Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement for his career-long accomplishments in teaching and learning.
 
New evidence emerges on the origins of life on Earth: Two long-time UNC scientists in the department, Richard Wolfenden, PhD, distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics and Charles Carter, Jr., PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics shed new light on how life began some 4 billion years ago. Research from the Carter and Wolfenden labs provide evidence for how the genetic code developed in two distinct stages to help primordial chemicals evolve into cells as part of two papers published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 
UNC researchers create DNA repair map of the entire human genome: Research in the lab of Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics, describes in a paper in Genes & Development a new experimental assay that can help scientists find the precise locations of repair of DNA damage caused by UV radiation and common chemotherapies. The invention could lead to better cancer drugs or improvements in the potency of existing ones.
 
Potential drug target identified for aggressive breast cancer typeIn a new pre-clinical study published in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers from the lab of Leslie Parise, PhD, professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics, show that they can exploit cancer's reliance on a particular protein to help fight triple negative breast cancer and believe the protein could be a valuable new drug target.

 
Epigenetic Breakthrough: A first of its kind tool to study the histone code: Brian Strahl, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics along with other scientists at UNC have created a new way to investigate epigenetic mechanisms important in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancers. In a paper published in Developmental Cell, they describe a new research tool that helps them understand the function of histone proteins, which play critical roles in the regulation of gene expression in animals and plants.

Read more at: www.med.unc.edu/biochem/news
FACULTY NEWS
Welcome our new faculty!

Jill Dowen, PhD: Jill received her PhD from University of California, San Diego. She completed her postdoctoral studies with an NIH fellowship in the lab of Dr. Rick Young at MIT. Jill joined UNC and the department effective October 1, 2015 as an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics with a joint appointment in biology. She is also a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Jill’s lab studies how genes function within the three-dimensional context of the nucleus to control development and prevent disease. Her group combines genomic approaches (ChIP-Seq, ChIA-PET) and genome editing tools (CRISPR) to study the epigenetic mechanisms by which transcriptional regulatory elements control gene expression in embryonic stem cells. 
 
Pengda Liu, PhD: Pengda received his PhD from East Carolina University and in collaboration with Arno Greenleaf’s lab at Duke University. He is currently a research associate in the lab of Wenyi Wei at Harvard Medical School, and has been cultivating his independent research efforts with a K99 award from the NIH. Pengda will join UNC and the department effective March 1, 2016 as an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the Lineberger Cancer Center. He plans to study aberrant signaling modules that contribute to tumorigenesis and target these modules for cancer treatment.
 
Rob McGinty, MD, PhD: Rob received his MD from Weill Cornell Medical College and his PhD from Rockefeller University. He is currently a Damon Runyan postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Song Tan at Penn State. Rob will join UNC effective July 1, 2016 with a primary appointment as an assistant professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy with a joint in our department. The McGinty group will combine protein chemistry and structural biology to explore epigenetic signaling with designer nucleosomes, containing defined sets of modifications, at atomic resolution.
Farewell and congrats to two faculty!

Rinku Majumder, PhD is a research associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics who has been a dedicated member of the department for over 17 years. She first joined UNC and the department as a researcher in the lab of Barry Lentz and was a key member of the Lentz group as well as an invaluable colleague, collaborator and friend to many in the department. This past year, Rinku garnered NIH funding to pursue her independent research and has since grown her lab and been recruited from UNC. Effective December 1, 2015, Rinku accepted a tenure-track associate professor appointment in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Louisiana State University. She will continue her research efforts studying the role of Protein S in the blood coagulation cascade.


Dan Isom, PhD is a research assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the lab of Henrik Dohlman. Dan has taken a faculty position in the molecular and cellular pharmacology department at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine starting in the Spring of 2016. Dan's lab will focus on understanding the relationship between cell stress and  signal transduction using an approach that integrates structural informatics, molecular biophysics, and novel cell-based assay systems. Graduate students interested in postdoctoral opportunities with the lab are encouraged to send their CVs to disom@unc.edu or disom@miami.edu
In memoriam: George K. Summer

Dr. George Kendrick Summer, Professor Emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics, passed peacefully at UNC Hospital on July 8th in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the age of 92. George was born May 8th, 1923 in Cherryville, North Carolina to Thomas and Bessie Summer. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a BS in Chemistry in 1944. He served in the Navy in the Pacific in World War Two. After the war he attended Harvard Medical School, where he met his wife of 64 years, Betsy, and graduated in 1951.He continued his post medical school training at Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a faculty member in the department until his retirement in 1988. After his retirement, George established a fund in the department to support medical and graduate training and research in biochemical genetics. Join in supporting his legacy at UNC by giving to this opportunity: http://bit.ly/1LA1m8y
Faculty Honors

Jean Cook, PhD: Jean is an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics and the associate dean for graduate education in the UNC school of medicine. Jean along with Jeremy Purvis, assistant professor of genetics received a prestigious Keck Foundation award to build a “real-time map” of the events in the human cell cycle that are important for normal cell proliferation and development, as well as during diseases such as cancer. Full story: http://bit.ly/1NsU3Y0
 
William Marzluff, PhD: Bill is a William Rand Kenan distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics who received a 2015 Lifetime of Stewardship Award from the NC RNA Society. The award recognizes outstanding efforts in mentoring young faculty, postdoctoral associates and graduate trainees, and scientific contributions to the field of RNA science. At the October 2015 NC RNA Society Meeting, Bill was honored for his outstanding research and service accomplishments to the RNA field.
 
Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD: Aziz is a Sarah Graham Kenan distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics. Aziz was recognized this year from both the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). ASBMB selected him for the 2016 Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science for his scientific contributions in the “Excision repair map of the human genome at nucleotide resolution.” Aziz will give the plenary lecture for this award at the next ASBMB annual meeting in April 2016.
 
Aziz was also awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with his fellow colleagues, Paul Modrich (Duke) and Tomas Lindahl (Francis Crick Institute), for their research on the “Mechanistic studies of DNA repair.” Aziz presented his Nobel Lecture on December 8, 2015 in Stockholm. Watch the lecture: https://youtu.be/RKFT8Iym8Zs
 
Qi Zhang, PhD: Qi is an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics and research in his lab focuses on using computational and biochemical approaches to understand the molecular basis of RNA function. Qi was awarded a 2015 UNC Jefferson Pilot Fellowship. The Jefferson-Pilot is given annually to promising junior faculty to explore new ideas in research, teaching or clinical treatment. Qi will receive $20,000 to support his scholarly efforts at UNC. Full story: http://bit.ly/1NTwkhQ
STUDENT / POSTDOCTORAL SCHOLAR NEWS & HONORS

Meet our new Students!

John (Astor) Ankney
Hometown:  Apex, NC
Prior Degrees: B.S. Biochemistry/B.A. Chemistry, East Carolina University
Research Interest: Breast cancer proteomics
Research Advisor: Xian Chen, PhD
Why did you choose the Department: I’m very excited by the approaches used in the Chen lab and the extensive opportunities for collaboration within the department
Aspen Gutgsell
Hometown:  Los Alamos, New Mexico
Prior Degrees: B.S. Biology, minor in Biochemistry & Chemistry, New Mexico State University
Research Interest: Identifying the mechanism of SOD1 induced toxicity in ALS pathogenesis
Research Advisor: Nikolay Dokholyan, PhD
Why did you choose UNC: I love the area and unique research opportunities at UNC.
Minh Huynh
Hometown:  Asheville, NC
Prior Degrees: B.S. Chemistry (Biochemistry), UNC
Research Interest: Biological and structural differences of oncogenic RAS proteins
Research Advisors: Sharon Campbell, PhD and Channing Der, PhD
Why did you choose UNC:  I liked the faculty here and the research really suited my interests. I also liked the area for the small town atmosphere, food and music.
Edhriz (Ed) Siraliev-Perez
Hometown:  Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Prior Degrees: B.S. in Biomedical Sciences (Magna Cum Laude), University of Puerto Rico
Research Interest: Protein structure and function, enzyme inhibition
Research Advisor: John Sondek, Ph.D.
Why did you choose UNC: It has top-notch research in a collaborative and supportive environment and the department provides the right training.

Student Thesis Defenses

Peter Thompson, PhD: February 26th
“Popping the Clutch: The Structural and Functional Consequences of the Vinculin Interaction with F-actin”
Peter completed his graduate studies in the lab of Sharon Campbell and is currently a IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow at NIEHS in RTP, NC.

Ryan Hallet, PhD: April 13th
“Design, Improvement, and Benchmarking of a Light-Induced Heterodimer:  The Awakening of iLID”
Ryan completed his graduate studies in the lab of Brian Kuhlman and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Kuhlman lab and the co-founder of Dualogics, a biotech company in Chapel HIll, NC.
 
Justin Black, PhD – July 17th
“Exploration of the Role of CIB1 in Cell Survival and Tumor Growth”
Justin completed his graduate studies in the lab of Leslie Parise and is currently a Scientific Project Associate at T2 Biosystems (company developing diagnostic products) in Boston, MA.
 
Brian Garret, PhD – August 24th
“Characterization of a Key Mycobacterium tuberculosis Lipase, LipY”
Brian completed his graduate studies in the lab of Saskia Neher and is currently developing a start-up company with his family to build patient health devices in Durham, NC.

Andrew Monteith, PhD – November 20th
“Chronic mTOR Activation Impairs Lysosomal Maturation by Dysregulating Caspases in SLE”
Andrew completed his graduate studies in the lab of Barbara Vilen and is currently seeking a postdoctoral position in academia.
 

Honors & Awards


Melissa Babilonia-Rosa: Melissa is a graduate student in the lab of Saskia Neher and she received a 2015 dissertation completion award from the UNC Graduate School.
 
Kate Coleman: Kate is a graduate student in the lab of Jean Cook and she received a 2014 Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center graduate fellow award (awarded in 2015).
 
Onur Dagliyan: Onur is a graduate student in the lab of Nikolay Dokholyan and he received a 2014 Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center graduate fellow award (awarded in 2015).
 
Alakananda (Alka) Das: Alka is a graduate student in the lab of Kevin Slep and she received a 2015 dissertation completion award from the UNC Graduate School.
 
Jhuma Das, PhD: Jhuma is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Nikolay Dokholyan and she received a special honor from the Carolina’s Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as a “Finest” participant in their annual fundraising and professional development event.
 
Gavin Grant, PhD: Gavin is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jean Cook and he received a 2015 UNC Postdoctoral Scholar Mentor Award.

Cassandra Hayne: Cassandra is a graduate student in the lab of Saskia Neher and she received a 2015 NSF GROW award to support her travel expenses abroad for an international collaboration.

Amy Howard: Amy is a graduate student in the lab of Kevin Slep and she received a 2015 American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship to support her research on “A structural and mechanistic study of XMAP215-mediated MT polymerization and cell migration.”
Jinchuan Hu, PhD: Jinchuan is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Aziz Sancar. He received a UNC Postdoctoral Award for Research Excellence for the 2015-2016 academic year for his research efforts on nucleotide excision repair.
 
Reed Jacob: Reed is a graduate student in the lab of Nikolay Dokholyan and he received a 2015 UNC Graduate Scholar Mentoring Award.

Deepak Jha, PhD: Deepak completed his graduate studies in the lab of Brian Strahl and he received a 2013 Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center graduate fellow award (awarded in 2015). Deepak is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of George Daley at the Boston Children’s Hospital.
 
Andrew Monteith: Andrew is a graduate student in the lab of Barbara Vilen and he received a 2016 Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award for his project “Impaired lysosomal maturation in macrophages underlies pathogenesis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.”
 
Mrilanini (Minu) Ramanan: Minu is a graduate student in the labs of Wolfgang Bergmeier and Sharon Campbell. She received an NIH predoctoral fellowship to support her research interests in protein structure, dynamics and function using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and other biophysical techniques. Minu was also the first place talk honoree for Biological and health sciences at the 2015 UNC Academic Research Conference.
 
Cheng Zhu, PhD: Cheng is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Nikolay Dokholyan and he received a 2015 UNC Postdoctoral Scholar Mentor Award.
STAFF NEWS
New Assistant to the Chair:
Jamie Desoto has joined department as the new chair’s assistant. She brings with her experience in various administrative positions in both academic and corporate worlds. She comes to us from the UNC School of Dentistry where she worked as the DDS Registrar. 

Jamie was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. She has lived stateside in Phoenix and Seattle before moving to Durham in 2008. Don’t mistake her for a Blue Devil though, Jamie is a true Tarheel! Welcome Jamie!
Recognition awards
Jesse Arp, post-award administrator and Greg Young, NMR facility director both received a 2015 UNC Star Heels awards. Star Heels provides these awards to divisions as a mechanism for them to recognize and reward excellent employees.
 
10 year state service awards

Amanda Chang, development & communications manager
Liying Cui, research specialist in the John Riordan lab
Luba Aleksandrov, research associate in the John Riordan lab
 
5 year state service awards
John Hutton, post-award administrator
Jeffrey Jones, lab manager for Cook, Kuhlman, and Strahl labs
EVENT HIGHLIGHTS
2015 Spring Seminars
Richard Wolfenden, PhD (UNC)
Jane Dyson, PhD (Scripps)
Bill Maixner, PhD (UNC)
Gaorav Gupta, MD/PhD (UNC)
John Yates, PhD (Scripps)
Luanne Peters, PhD (Jackson Labs)
Marcey Waters, PhD (UNC)
Feng Qiao, PhD (UC Irvine)
Alan Engelman, PhD (Harvard)
Scott Williams, PhD (NIEHS)
Supriya Prasanth, PhD (U-Illinois)
Greg Alushin, PhD (NIH)
Thomas Kleyman, MD (Pitt)
Dinshaw Patel, PhD (Sloan Kettering)
 
2015 Fall Seminars
Leslie Parise, PhD (UNC)
Albert Bowers, PhD (UNC)
Nicolas Buchler, PhD (Duke)
Stephen Young, MD (UCLA)
Nat Moorman, PhD (UNC)
David Muddiman, PhD (NCSU)
Karin Leiderman, PhD (UC Merced)
Li Zhu, MD/PhD (Soochow U)
Jill Dowen, PhD (UNC)
Nir Ben-Tal, PhD (Tel Aviv)

Bryan Venters, PhD (Vanderbilt)

Learn more:
www.med.unc.edu/biochem/events
 
UPCOMING EVENTS
Thurs-Fri, April 28 - 29, 2016

The Department
 will hold it's research retreat at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC! We have invited Dr. Xiaowei Zhuang from Harvard to give the keynote talk, planned for departmental talks and posters, and a host of outdoor activities to make for an engaging and exciting weekend.   

Learn More: http://bit.ly/1lixNTS
**DONATE & SUPPORT US**
Department Chair’s Discretionary Fund: This fund directly supports initiatives such as our seminar programs, yearly retreat, and more and has a wide-ranging impact on our faculty, trainees, staff, and greater community. Gifts of any amount are welcome. http://bit.ly/1R6E4hG

Biochemistry & Biophysics Distinguished Lectureships: This fund supports special lectureships to bring well-known figures in the basic sciences to campus to discuss biochemical topics of current interest in language understandable to laymen. http://bit.ly/1PZjLSF

Biochemistry & Biophysics Graduate Student Educational Fund: Funds will be used to support student stipends, travel to meetings, recruitment expenses, or graduate student sponsored seminars. http://bit.ly/1NdaBBc
Aziz Sancar Research Studies Fund: This fund supports research in the lab of Aziz Sanar in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. http://bit.ly/1OsdBsC

Arrel Toews Excellence in Research and Teaching Professorship: This fund provides flexibility to recruit or retain a distinguished faculty scholar in the biochemical and biophysical sciences. Named in honor of emeritus faculty member of the Department, Dr. Arrel Toews, who served the University from 1977-2014. Our goal is to raise enough support for an endowed professorship. http://bit.ly/1lihfv4

George K. Summer Biochemistry Fund: This fund supports medical and graduate training and research in biochemical genetics. http://bit.ly/1LA1m8y
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UNC Biochemistry & Biophysics, 120 Mason Farm Road, CB 7260, Chapel Hill, NC 27599

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