Skip to main content
Explore URMC




20182017201620152014 Archive

Lynne Maquat Wins Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry is the recipient of the 2017 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. Established by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2006, the competitive prize honors women scientists with a “stellar record” of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science.

Maquat is internationally known for a huge body of research that describes what goes wrong in our cells during disease. The founding director of the University of Rochester’s Center for RNA Biology, she has spent her career deciphering the many roles that RNA plays in sickness and in health.

She’s dedicated a great deal of time to helping women advance in scientific careers and in 2003 established the University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science program. Through monthly round-table discussions with high-profile speakers who are using advanced degrees in traditional and non-traditional ways, the program seeks to broaden awareness of what women can do with a Ph.D. Program members can apply for travel awards to attend conferences, seminars or other external events that will help them advance their careers.

Maquat, also a professor in the Wilmot Cancer Institute, is the recipient of other prestigious honors, including the Canada Gairdner International Award; the International RNA Society’s Lifetime Achievement Awards in Service and in Science; the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Excellence in Science Award; the Rochester ATHENA Award®; and election to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Maquat is the 12th recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science and will receive the prize on November 29, 2018, when she is scheduled to give a Flexner Discovery Lecture. She will also meet with Vanderbilt faculty and mentor Vanderbilt Prize Scholars, women who are pursuing graduate studies in the biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Maquat is being recognized for her pioneering work in RNA biology, which has catalyzed innovative areas of research and provided insight to the role of RNA regulation in human disease,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center Executive Vice President for Research and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. “She is a world-renowned scientist and an exceptional mentor, a role model for us all.”

Read More: Lynne Maquat Wins Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science

Lynne Maquat Delivers Harvey Society Lecture at Rockefeller University

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Maquat Photo

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Director of the Center for RNA Biology gave a Harvey Society Lecture on October 19 at The Rockefeller University in New York City. The lecture series is one of the most prestigious in the country and the lecturers, who are selected by the Harvey Society's leadership council, are leading biomedical researchers from around the world.

Maquat discussed her career path and the discovery of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), which she first described for humans in 1981. NMD is a cellular quality control mechanism that derails the production of unwanted proteins in the body that can disrupt normal processes and initiate disease. Maquat is known around the world for her work on NMD, which is critically important in both normal and disease states. UR President Joel Seligman and URMC CEO and SMD Dean Mark Taubman attended the lecture.

Founded in 1905, the Harvey Society sponsors seven lectures annually that are open to the public and are attended by hundreds of scientists from New York City and the surrounding areas. The Harvey Lectures are one of the great traditions in New York science and they are a place where scientists from different institutions meet regularly.

Gene-editing tool CRISPR can now manipulate more types of genetic material

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR has been making headlines for its ability to edit DNA, which could one day transform how we fight cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Now, scientists have created a new version of CRISPR that can target and edit a different genetic building block: RNA.

The new tool, described in a study published today in Science, offers several advantages: its edits, for instance, aren’t permanent, which makes gene editing much safer. Researchers showed that the new system, called REPAIR, can work relatively efficiently in human cells. In the future, it could be used to treat diseases, as well as better understand the role that RNA plays in causing those diseases.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox that we didn’t have access to before,” says Mitchell O'Connell, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the research. “It’s like developing new technology that makes you see things that you couldn't see before, or tweak things that you couldn't tweak.”

The gene-editing tool CRISPR is based on a defense mechanism bacteria use to ward off viruses by cutting off bits of their DNA and pasting them elsewhere. Scientists have engineered that mechanism to tweak DNA, creating unusually muscular beagles, for instance, and mosquitoes that don’t transmit malaria. But there are different types of CRISPR, with different types of molecular scissors. The gene-editing tool that’s been making lots of headlines is called CRISPR-Cas9. The CRISPR used in today’s study is called CRISPR-Cas13.

Instead of snipping DNA, this type of CRISPR targets another of the major biological molecules found in all forms of life, RNA. Most of the time, RNA is used inside the body to help DNA build proteins. And proteins play an important role in causing diseases. There are some advantages to editing RNA instead of DNA, says study co-author David Cox, a PhD student in the Zhang Lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which has been doing pioneering work on CRISPR. RNA is constantly being made and recycled inside cells, so an RNA edit is not permanent. (The edits could still be effective, though: the CRISPR system could be kept in cells for, say, months, allowing the scissors to keep editing RNA as it forms.) That makes the whole process safer. If you edit RNA and make a mistake, for instance, the faulty RNA will be degraded likely within 24 hours. Instead, if you edit DNA and make a mistake, that mistake is irreversible and could possible lead to cancer. Certain changes to DNA could also be passed on to future generations, while changes to RNA generally aren’t passed on.

Gene editing “is very exciting, but there are still big risks involved,” O'Connell tells The Verge. Targeting RNA rather than DNA is “a safer strategy, particularly for things where you might not want to make permanent change.”

To create the new editing tool, called REPAIR, the researchers combined CRISPR-Cas13 with a protein called ADAR. It works this way: the Cas13 enzyme is programmed to target a specific RNA sequence that might correspond to a disease mutation; the ADAR protein then makes the edit. In the study, the researchers showed that the system can edit specific RNA bases with 20 to 40 percent efficiency — and up to 90 percent in some instances, says Cox. And the system made few mistakes: even though gene-editing tools are very precise, sometimes they snip pieces of genetic code they weren’t programmed to cut. These off-target cuts can be dangerous, and scientists want to make sure there are as few of them as possible.

A first version of REPAIR caused nearly 20,000 off-target cuts, says study co-author Omar Abudayyeh, also a PhD student in the Zhang Lab. “That was a pretty disappointing moment,” he tells The Verge. But then, the team tweaked the system in a way that reduced the number of off-target cuts to 10 to 20 per target site, making it much more precise — and safe.

O'Connell says he was surprised by how well the system works. RNA has been targeted before in an effort to make drugs to treat disease, O'Connell says. But this CRISPR system makes the whole editing process much easier. In the future, this editing tool could be used to treat life-threatening diseases like hemophilia, as well as a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can lead to sudden death, Cox tells The Verge. Before that happens, the system needs to be optimized, and made much more precise. Researchers also need to show that it works in mice, other animals, and eventually in people. “It’s a long road to translate this into any sort of therapy,” says study co-author Jonathan Gootenberg, another PhD student in the Zhang Lab.

Together with CRISPR-Cas9, this system really has the potential to revolutionize how we treat diseases. And that’s the motivation that keeps Gootenberg, Cox, and Abudayyeh working hard in their lab. Abudayyeh says that when he was in med school, he met a woman with terminal lung cancer, who had maybe a few more months to live. “You feel pretty hopeless in that situation because there’s nothing you can do even as a doctor,” he says. But that’s also what inspired him to get into biotechnology.

“You feel so empowered where you’re in the lab, just thinking about new ways to make new technologies with the potential to hopefully actually help patients like that,” Abudayyeh says. “It’s really exciting.”

URMC Scientist Lynne Maquat Elected to National Academy of Medicine

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., an internationally recognized researcher who studies what happens in our cells during disease, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine. The honor is akin to an actor receiving an Emmy for an outstanding performance; current members of the Academy elected Maquat for her exceptional research in the field of RNA biology. The accolade places her amongst an elite group of scientists and physicians who have made significant contributions to health and medicine.

In studying RNA, a close cousin to DNA, Maquat has discovered intricate cellular processes that influence normal genes, as well as genes involved in a wide range of diseases. Her findings are leading to the development of new treatment approaches for everything from cancer and heart disease, to intellectual and developmental disabilities and other neurologic disorders.

“Lynne is at the forefront of a movement to transform our increasing understanding of RNA biology into promising therapies for virtually all disease processes,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “She is an incredible asset to the University and will undoubtedly bring a wealth of valuable experience and knowledge to the National Academy of Medicine.”

Formerly called the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Medicine is an independent organization of professionals from diverse fields that advises the nation and the international community on issues in health, medicine and related policy. For example, in 2016 the Academy released a report calling for more and better research into ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, and recently issued a report detailing how physicians can help combat America’s opioid crisis.

The J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics and of Oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Maquat is also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Sciences. She was the first individual from upstate New York to receive the prestigious Canada International Gairdner Award, the country’s top award for excellence in biomedical research, which she won in 2015.

The National Institutes of Health has continuously funded Maquat’s research for the past 34 years and she’s published more than 150 papers and reviews. She is the founding director of the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology and founding chair of the Graduate Women in Science program. She’s committed countless hours to mentoring the next generation of researchers and advocating for young women in the sciences.

When she is formally inducted into the National Academy of Medicine in October 2018, Maquat will join four other active Rochester faculty members: Seymour I. Schwartz in the Department of Surgery: Elizabeth R. McAnarney in Pediatrics; Paul S. Frame in Family Medicine; and Robert C. Griggs in Neurology.

Read More: URMC Scientist Lynne Maquat Elected to National Academy of Medicine

Department Holds Annual Picnic

Monday, October 2, 2017

On September 15, the department held its annual picnic at Genesee Valey Park. The day was fantastic, with food, friends and kickball! View the Photos of the event.

Read More: Department Holds Annual Picnic

Hilf Article in Analytical Biochemistry Read Over 1000 Times

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Congratulations to Biochemistry & Biophysics Professor Russell Hilf, Ph.D., as his paper, Fluorimetric method for determination of oxidized and reduced glutathione in tissues, has been read over 1,000 times and cited over 3100 times!

Biochemistry & Biophysics students Mukta Palshikar, Erica VanderWal, and Brandon Davis receive awards at UR School of Medicine Opening Convocation

Friday, September 22, 2017

Congratulations to first year students who received awards at the SMD Opening Convocation on September 12, 2017.

Mutka Palshikar, a first year student in the Biophysics, Structural and Computational Biology program won the Graduate Alumni Fellowship, which recognizes an incoming student with promise for exceptional accomplishment in graduate study.

Arica VanderWal, a first year student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program was awarded the Elmer Stotz Fellowship in Biochemistry, which recognizes the meritorious academic and research accomplishments of an incoming graduate student in the BMB program.

Brandon Davis, an incoming student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program, was a recipient of a Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull University Fellowship, which recognizes the exceptional academic record and research talent of selected students in the first year class University-wide.

Congratulations again to Mutka, Arica, and Brandon!


Mutka Palshikar


Arica VanderWal


Brandon Davis

Dumont Selected as the 2017 Recipient of the Graduate Student Society Advocacy Award

Monday, August 28, 2017

Biochemistry professor Mark Dumont, Ph.D. has been selected as the 2017 recipient of the Graduate Student Society Advocacy Award. This award, established in 1994 by the Graduate Student Society (GSS), is bestowed annually to recognize a faculty member in the School of Medicine and Dentistry who has made significant contributions in promoting excellence in graduate education through participation, facilitation, and promotion of GSS goals and events. The faculty member may be nominated by any SMD student, and is chosen by a GSS Executive Board vote.

The award will be presented at the School of Medicine and Dentistry Convocation Ceremony on Tuesday, September 12th at 4:00pm in the Class of 1962 Auditorium.

The department would like to extend congratulations to Mark on this recognition, as it is a well-deserved honor.

Maquat Honored with FASEB Award, Featured on People Behind the Science Podcast

Friday, August 25, 2017

Maquat Photo

Dr. Lynne Maquat, J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, Director of the Center for RNA Biology, and Chair of Graduate Women in Science at the University of Rochester was recently featured on the podcast, People Behind the Science.

Lynne discusses her mentors and career milestones, and offers advice to junior scientists. Maquat recently received the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's Excellence in Science Award, which recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions to science through research discoveries and by training the next generation of scientists.

The entire interview can be listened to for free on iTunes.

Read More: Maquat Honored with FASEB Award, Featured on People Behind the Science Podcast

Russ Hilf listed among life-long ASBMB Members

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Russell Hilf Photo

Dr. Russell Hilf

Russel Hilf, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry and Biophysics, was listed among American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members with at least 50 years of membership.

The ASBMB is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with over 12,000 members, founded in 1906. The Society's mission is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology and to promote the understanding of the molecular nature of life processes. Congratulations Russ!

Biochemistry Graduate Students Sierra Fox and Chris Goodwin Explain CRISPR Gene Editing on YouTube

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fox, Goodwin Photo

From left: Sierra Fox and Christopher Goodwin

UR Science ROCs: What's CRISPR?

It’s no secret: URMC is home to extraordinary scientific innovations and research.

Our UR Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (URBEST) program and our Public Relations and Communications office teamed up to offer our students and trainees the chance to highlight our research through original visuals and videos. Four videos earned prizes for their unique science storytelling and will be featured on our intranet site and the UR Medicine Facebook page throughout the month in an ongoing series called "UR Science ROCs."

What is CRISPR?

Fourth-year graduate students Chris Goodwin and Sierra Fox, and third-year graduate student Nick Nobiletti, talk about CRISPR and how it’s helping scientists edit DNA.

Goodwin is a student in the lab of Joshua Munger, Ph.D.(Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics); Fox is a student in the lab of Michael Bulger, Ph.D.(Departments of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Pediatrics); and Nobiletti is a student in the lab of Angela Glading, Ph.D. (Department of Pharmacology and Physiology).

Continued Excellence: Undergraduate Biochemistry Class of 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hicks and Palmer Photo

Biochemistry Undergraduate Class of 2017

Each spring the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at the University of Rochester Medical School, hosts a graduation ceremony for about 30 students, who receive their Bachelors of Science Degree in Biochemistry. And every year we are reminded that the young men and women who graduate from our program are truly amazing. Our most recent graduating class was no exception; not only did they excel in their studies of the physical sciences, these graduates routinely boasted an extraordinary list of accomplishments in diverse areas from sports to the arts, to community service. These undergraduates arrived at the university with varied backgrounds, one from Nepal, another from Russia, while three others were the first in their families to earn a college degree.

As usual, there was no shortage of academic honors among this year’s graduating class. Of the 27 students in the 2017 Biochemistry class, 13 students graduated either summa, magna, or cum-laude, and 7 graduates were selected to Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. One graduate is a Fulbright Scholar, going to the University of Hong Kong to study cancer and aging. Eight of the graduates earned double degrees with their Biochemistry degree, also receiving degrees in English (Honors), Psychology, Chemistry, Business, and American Sign Language.

An amazing 21 of the 30 graduates participated in cutting-edge research in various laboratories during their studies at the University of Rochester, with 6 earning Honors in Research by writing and defending a thesis based upon their own research results. Their research projects focused on a wide range of topics ranging from investigations of the basic mechanisms of gene expression, to mechanisms of aging to cancer research. Titles of senior Honors thesis ranged from “Engineering of Myoglobin Catalysts for Novel Reactivity”, and “Nasonia Venom Research” to “Uncovering Pathways to Longevity through a Novel SIRT6-AMPK Signaling Loop” and “Effects of Genetic and Infectious Factors on Lysosomal Function: Implications in Demyelinating Disease”.

Among the class, 9 have been already accepted into medical school, MD/Ph.D., Ph.D. or M.A. programs at institutions such as MIT, Johns Hopkins, and Albert Einstein University. Another 11 plan to apply to such programs after taking a ‘year-out’, with one opting to participate in basic research into muscular dystrophy, another going to work for AmeriCorps in Chicago to help school kids at risk for dropping out, and a third joining Teach for America to assist educational efforts in New York City. Therefore, if their plans pan out, over 2/3 of the class will be earning advanced degrees in medicine or biomedical research.

Along the way, these students garnered an impressive number of accolades, scholarships, and academic prizes. One graduate won both the Catherine Block Award, given annually to 5 women in the junior class in recognition of their outstanding ability and achievement in the field of science and the Irene Bush Steinbock Award, given annually to 4 seniors in the College who have made noteworthy contributions to human relations. Another two won the Janet Howell Clark Prize, awarded annually to 5 graduating women who have shown great promise in one Physics, Chemistry, Biology, or Astronomy. Eleven students won a total of 14 different scholarships during their studies, including numerous awards to fund summer research fellowships which allowed them spend summers working in our research labs.

Perhaps even more impressive than these academic achievements, were the incredibly diverse extracurricular activities that these science graduates enjoyed in their ‘free’ time. Importantly these included included several examples of leadership, as among our graduating class was a captain of the varsity boys soccer team, a captain of the girls track team, and the President of the Women’s Club Volleyball team. Others were members of the varsity tennis, rugby, and crew teams. The extra-curricular activities did not only include athletics; one graduate founded a Student’s Stand-Up Comedy Club, another was organizer and President of an American Cancer Society Relay for Life, raising over $250,000, others included the manager of the Midnight Ramblers, a men’s vocalist group, a President of the UR Circle K International, a community service organization, a President of Society of Undergraduate Biology students, a member of Pride Network, and a member of Rochester Bangra, a competitive North Indian Dance team.

So what do all the awards, accolades and achievements amount to? First and foremost, its clear that these young adults have not only learned the intricacies of a challenging discipline in the biomedical sciences, but also to take advantage of opportunities for enrichment in life, taking the time to get involved, to participate in life-enriching extracurricular activities, and, especially, to find fulfillment in service to others. Such traits are certainly the bedrock of the leaders of tomorrow and it is encouraging to imagine how these young people will contribute to our world in the future. To quote a line from a recent graduation speech, it is not a question of whether these graduates are ready for the world, but rather whether the world is ready for them.

Class of 2017 Accomplishments

  • Founded Stand-Up comedy club
  • President Women's Club Volleyball Team
  • 4 year member of varsity soccer
  • 4 year member of varsity soccer, regional finals for hammer and discus
  • President Relay for life - 3 years - raised over $250,000
  • Varsity Tennis Team
  • Men's Rugby Team- won 2 NY state championship titles
  • Manager Midnight Ramblers
  • Executive Board Refugee Student Alliance
  • Varsity Member of Crew Team
  • President of Society of Undergraduate Biology students
  • Rochester Bangra (Competitive North Indian Dance team)
  • Audio music and engineering
  • President of Circle K International (community service organization)
  • Pride Network - Sonam Sherpa
  • First generation college graduate from Nepal


  • Barbara J Burger Endowed Scholarship
  • Bausch and Lomb Merit Award Scholarship
  • DeKiewet Summer Research Fellowships
  • Discover Grant for undergrad research
  • Gates Millennium Scholar
  • Handler Scholar
  • John McCreary Memorial Prize
  • Kearns Center Scholar
  • Nathaniel And Helen Wisch Scholar
  • Office of Undergraduate research presentation Award
  • Renaissance & Global Scholar
  • Ronald McNair Scholar
  • Wilder Leadership Scholarship
  • William Jackson Hawley Scholarship

Payea and Mishra are Inaugural Recipients of the Sayeeda Zain Travel Award

Friday, July 14, 2017

The department of Biochemistry and Biophysics recently presented to the inaugural Sayeeda Zain Travel Award to Mathew Payea and Laxmi Narayan Mishra.

Matthew Payea is a 6th year graduate student in the Biochemistry Ph.D. program studying tRNA biology in laboratory of Eric Phizicky. Matthew received his Bachelors in Science from Eastern Illinois University, majoring in Biochemistry. Matthew used the funding provided by the Sayeeda Zain Travel Award to attend the 22nd annual meeting of the RNA Society in Prague, Czech Republic this past June. There, he gave a talk on his research defining an RNA decay pathway in yeast that destroys mutant tRNAs.

Laxmi Narayan Mishra is a postdoctoral associate working in Dr. Jeffrey J Hayes’ Lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of Rochester Medical Center. He has a Masters degree from University of North Bengal, Darjeeling, India and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, India. His research is focused on how epigenetic modifications alter chromosome structure to facilitate gene expression. His Dr. Mishra will use the Sayeeda Zain Travel Award to attend and present his research findings at the international EMBO conference on “The Nucleosomes: From Atoms to Genomes” at Heidelberg, Germany, in August 2017.

The Sayeeda Zain Travel Award is given semi-annually to one or more graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. The award honors the life and achievements of Professor Sayeed Zain, Ph.D., a longtime faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Learn more about the award and Dr. Zain.


Matthew Payea (left) with Dr. Jeffrey Hayes


Laxmi Narayan Mishra (left) with Dr. Jeffrey Hayes

Budding UR Scientists and Science Communicators

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Contest Video InfographicEmily Boynton and Molly Miles from URMC’s Department of Public Relations and Communications met with a small group of URBEST trainees to discuss how the Medical Center and other academic institutions are sharing science in the social world we live in. They provided some examples of different types of visuals and videos that get great engagement on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. The goal?  URBEST and The Public Relations and Communications team wanted to find and offer prizes for three original visuals or videos from students and trainees that highlight UR innovation and research. Money, video packs and fame!

First prize was awarded to a team of scientists: Chris Goodwin and Sierra Fox from Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and their camera man Nicholas Nobiletti from Pharmacology and Physiology for What Is CRISPR? They split $750 of prize money.

Read More: Budding UR Scientists and Science Communicators

Jeffrey Hayes Helps Increase Our Understanding of DNA's Path Into Cells

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Scientists are a step closer to understanding how DNA, the molecules that carry all of our genetic information, is squeezed into every cell in the body. How DNA is “packaged” in cells influences the activity of our genes and our risk for disease. Elucidating this process will help researchers in all areas of health care, from cancer and heart disease, to muscular dystrophy and osteoarthritis.Woman packing lots of clothes into a small suitcase

DNA is a long, floppy molecule, and there’s more than three feet of it in every cell. Our DNA is housed in structures called chromosomes, which condense the DNA to fit into the cell’s tight quarters.

Scientists from the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry worked with colleagues in France and Japan to describe the first step of DNA packing in a cell. They provided the first-ever detailed picture of the most basic building block of chromosomes, known as the nucleosome, and found that a protein known as H1 (for linker histone H1) helps DNA become more compact and rigid within the nucleosome. In contrast, when H1 isn’t present, the DNA is loose and flexible.

The tight structure that H1 creates helps shield our DNA from various factors that can activate or “turn on” certain genes. Without H1, DNA is more accessible to factors that could trigger disease-causing genes.

Published in the journal Molecular Cell, this finding will inform research on all processes that involve chromosomes, such as gene expression and DNA repair, which are critical to the understanding of diseases such as cancer, according to Jeffrey J. Hayes, Ph.D., senior study author and the Shohei Koide Professor and chair of the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.Amber Cutter

The teams in France and Japan used specialized microscopes and X-rays to capture pictures of DNA molecules interacting with H1 and other key proteins. Because of the size of the DNA and protein molecules, the pictures generated by these techniques were fuzzy and difficult to analyze.

Lead study author Amber Cutter, a graduate student in Hayes’ lab, put all of the components – DNA, H1, and other proteins – together in tiny test tubes and conducted various biochemical experiments. Her tests, coupled with the X-ray images, confirmed H1’s role.  

Cutter (pictured at right), who is entering her fifth year in Hayes’ lab, admits that the science is complex and that a lot more research needs to be done before this work can inform clinical treatment. But, the importance of understanding the most basic biological processes should not be underestimated. “In order to determine what happens when things go wrong in diseases like cancer, we need to know what happens when things go right.”

Hayes and Cutters' work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

# # #

The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s, pandemic influenza and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region and across the globe. To learn more, visit

Read More: Jeffrey Hayes Helps Increase Our Understanding of DNA's Path Into Cells

Study: A New Way to Slow Cancer Cell Growth

Friday, May 26, 2017

cells divide

Cells grow and divide during the cell cycle

Cancer is an extremely complex disease, but its definition is quite simple: the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells. Researchers from the University of Rochester’s Center for RNA Biology have identified a new way to potentially slow the fast-growing cells that characterize all types of cancer. The findings, reported today in the journal Science and funded by the National Institutes of Health, were made in kidney and cervical cancer cells in the laboratory and are a long way from being applied in people. But, they could be the basis of a treatment option in the future, the authors said.

Cancer: The Cell Cycle Gone Wrong

All cells go through the “cell cycle,” a series of events that culminate in orderly cell growth and division. In cancer, the cell cycle is out of whack; cells divide without stopping and invade surrounding tissues.

Lynne Maquat

Lynne Maquat, Ph.D.

Researchers identified a protein called Tudor-SN that is important in the “preparatory” phase of the cell cycle – the period when the cell gets ready to divide. When scientists eliminated this protein from cells, using the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, cells took longer to gear up for division. The loss of Tudor-SN slowed the cell cycle.

“We know that Tudor-SN is more abundant in cancer cells than healthy cells, and our study suggests that targeting this protein could inhibit fast-growing cancer cells,” said Reyad A. Elbarbary, Ph.D., lead study author and research assistant professor in the Center for RNA Biology and the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Elbarbary, who works in the laboratory of senior study author Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., a world-renowned expert in RNA biology, adds that there are existing compounds that block Tudor-SN that could be good candidates for a possible therapy.

Putting the Brakes on Cell Growth

Maquat’s team discovered that Tudor-SN influences the cell cycle by controlling microRNAs, molecules that fine tune the expression of thousands of human genes.

When Tudor-SN is removed from human cells, the levels of dozens of microRNAs go up. Boosting the presence of microRNAs puts the brakes on genes that encourage cell growth. With these genes in the “off” position, the cell moves more slowly from the preparatory phase to the cell division phase.

“Because cancer cells have a faulty cell cycle, pursuing factors involved in the cell cycle is a promising avenue for cancer treatment,” noted Maquat, director of the Center for RNA Biology and the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Maquat, who also holds an appointment in the Wilmot Cancer Institute, and Elbarbary have filed a patent application for methods targeting Tudor-SN for the treatment and prevention of cancer. Research next steps include understanding how Tudor-SN works in concert with other molecules and proteins so that scientists can identify the most appropriate drugs to target it.

Keita Miyoshi, Ph.D., staff scientist in Maquat’s lab, served as lead study author with Elbarbary. Jason R. Myers and John M. Ashton, Ph.D. from the UR Genomics Research Center played an instrumental role in the study analysis.

Read More: Study: A New Way to Slow Cancer Cell Growth

Using rooster testes to learn how the body fights viruses

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Researchers from the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics examined the role of piRNA in safeguarding the integrity of the genetic information in germ cells. It's known that piRNA -- a type of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that's found most readily in the testes and ovaries -- shields germ cells by silencing the genetic sequences of viral intruders. It's also known that defects or mutations in piRNA lead to infertility in humans and other animals. What's not known is how piRNAs are generated in the first place.

A team led by Xin Li, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Urology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, analyzed rooster testes to find out.

Read More: Using rooster testes to learn how the body fights viruses

BMB, BSCB Students Win 2017 Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student

Saturday, April 1, 2017

BMB and BSCB graduate students, Lauren Benoodt, Tyler Couch, and Lisa Houston have been selected as joint winners of the 2017 Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student. The students will be presented with a certificate, as well as checks of $700 for each. The three of them were TA’s for IND 408 (Advanced Biochemistry) in the Fall of 2016.

The Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student was established to recognize graduate students who advance the teaching mission of the University by providing highly skilled and innovative undergraduate instruction. The strongest nominations show innovation in teaching and a positive impact on the learning of undergraduates.

Congratulations Lauren, Tyler, and Lisa!

Maquat Receives Lifetime Achievement Award in Science from International RNA Society

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Photo of Lynne Maquat

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D. has spent her career unraveling what happens in our cells during disease, making seminal contributions to our understanding of RNA’s role in sickness and in health. She’s also committed countless hours to mentoring the next generation of researchers and advocating for young women in the sciences. For these exceptional efforts, she’s receiving the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award in Science from the international RNA Society.

The J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Maquat began her professional career studying inherited anemias. She discovered a quality control process that blocks the creation of toxic proteins that cause disease. Known as nonsense-mediated mRNA decay or NMD, this process plays a part in one third of all inherited diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, and one third of all acquired diseases, including a number of cancers.

“This award recognizes Lynne’s pioneering contributions to understanding the mechanisms of RNA, as well as her outstanding leadership, support and commitment to our field, including her role as a model for new generations of scientists,” said Juan Valcarcel Juarez, current president of the RNA Society, who works at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain.

James McSwiggen, CEO of the RNA Society, added, “I can’t imagine a more appropriate choice of awardee.”

Read More: Maquat Receives Lifetime Achievement Award in Science from International RNA Society