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A Hidden Promise in the Language Cells Use to Communicate

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Scientists have begun to implicate extracellular vesicles and exosomes in everything from cancer to viral infections to basic neural functioning. To Lynne Maquat, the J. Lowell Orbison Distinguished Service Alumni Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, the process shows how parts of the genome we used to think of as junk actually have important functions. “You could say that the host domesticated a viral sequence for its own purposes,” Maquat says. “That’s the beauty of our complexity—[these elements] allow tinkering or fine-tuning of genes.”

Read More: A Hidden Promise in the Language Cells Use to Communicate

Latest Rochester Medicine Explores the 'Spirit and Science' of Lynne Maquat

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

maquat

The magazine's new issue, now in an interactive, flip-book format, highlights the investigative work of the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair, as well as the impressive efforts of our medical students, alumni and faculty—past and present.

Read More: Latest Rochester Medicine Explores the 'Spirit and Science' of Lynne Maquat

Maquat Wins the 2018 FASEB Excellence in Science Award

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lynne Maquat, PhD, received the 2018 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Excellence in Science Award during the Experimental Biology 2018 meeting in San Diego, hosted by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The award recognizes women whose outstanding career achievements in biological science have contributed significantly to the understanding of a particular discipline through scientific achievements, training of students and postdoctoral fellows, and contributions to the broader scientific community. Maquat is best known for unraveling RNA’s role in sickness and in health and for advocating for young women in the sciences. View Dr. Maquat’s award interview on ASBMB’s interviews page.

Read more: Maquat celebrated for her service and scientific achievements
Read more: Unraveling RNA and Stereotypes: Q&A with award-Winning Scientist Lynne Maquat

Looking to RNA for Answers

Friday, March 23, 2018

Cancer is a group of diseases in which the body’s cells divide uncontrollably and invade nearby tissues. Scientists at Wilmot Cancer Institute and the University of Rochester’s Center for RNA Biology are working to understand more about how and why this happens.

One piece of the puzzle they’re studying is ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which is found in all cells. RNA is made in the nucleus of a cell from our DNA, which holds the instruction manual for life. RNA puts those instructions into action.

RNA comes in many forms. One form, called messenger RNA (mRNA), carries those instructions out of the nucleus to the ribosomes, where proteins are made. These proteins are essential for functions ranging from digestion to protecting us from disease. If the mRNA has a bad copy of instructions, then either a faulty protein or no protein is created, leading to diseases like cancer.

Understanding the quality-control system

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., director of the Center for RNA Biology, studies a quality control process that blocks cells from making faulty proteins. Called nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), this process comes into play when mRNA has a set of instructions with a mistake that will lead to short or incomplete proteins. NMD acts like a set of factory inspectors that find and destroy this mRNA before the faulty proteins can be made.

Sometimes, though, NMD doesn’t catch the mistakes and harmful proteins are made. 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.

One reason is that tumors can influence how these inspectors work. Maquat and her team are looking for ways to stop tumors from interfering with NMD with the goal of finding new ways to treat cancer.

Slowing cancer’s growth

A team from Maquat’s lab has also identified a protein called Tudor-SN that is important as cells prepare to divide. This protein controls many microRNAs, molecules that are very small RNAs that control the expression of tens of thousands of genes.

The scientists found that when Tudor-SN is removed from human cells, levels of hundreds of microRNAs go up, putting the brakes on genes that encourage cell growth. This slows down the process of cell division known as the cell cycle, which goes awry in cancer.

Maquat and Reyad A. Elbarbary, Ph.D., a former post-doctoral fellow in Maquat’s lab, have filed a patent application for methods that target Tudor-SN for the treatment and prevention of cancer. They continue to study how Tudor-SN works in concert with other molecules and proteins so that scientists can identify the most appropriate drugs to target it.

Other avenues

Scientists at the Center for RNA Biology are also looking at RNA’s other roles in cancer to find new treatment strategies. For example, Mitchell O’Connell, Ph.D., is studying how microRNAs can interfere with the way genes are expressed and lead to cancer. He and his team are using the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, which he has adapted to edit RNA, to learn more about the proteins involved in this process.

Yi-Tao Yu, Ph.D., and his team are studying various ways to modify mRNA so that it can override mistakes in genetic instructions. Sometimes there’s a premature stop signal that orders a cell to stop reading the genetic instructions in mRNA partway through the process, resulting in an incomplete protein. The Yu lab is working to alter mRNA in ways that turn “stop” signals into “go” signals, creating full length proteins and preventing diseases like cancer. 

The study of RNA biology is allowing scientists and physicians to explore entirely new treatment strategies for cancer and a wide range of other genetic and acquired disorders.

Learn more about the work being done at the Center for RNA Biology.

By Lydia Fernandez

Read More: Looking to RNA for Answers

Maquat Wins 17th Annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Wiley Foundation today announced the 17th annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences will be awarded to Lynne E. Maquat for elucidating the mechanism of nonsense-mediated messenger RNA decay, a fundamental process whereby cells remove defective transcripts that can encode toxic proteins.

Dr. Maquat is a Professor at the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, the Founding Director of the Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics, the Founding Chair of the University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science, and the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

“The 2018 Wiley Prize honors Dr. Maquat, whose work illuminated how our cells prevent production of toxic proteins by removing defective messenger RNAs," said Dr. Titia de Lange, chairperson of the awards jury for the Wiley Prize at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

“The Wiley Foundation honors research that champions novel approaches and challenges accepted thinking in the biomedical sciences. The work of the 2018 Wiley Prize recipient Lynne Maquat truly upholds this mission,” said Deborah Wiley, Chair of the Wiley Foundation. “We are pleased to highlight the impact that her research on messenger RNA decay pathways has had in advancing our knowledge of the cellular cause of many human diseases.”

Read More: Maquat Wins 17th Annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences

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.

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

Protein identified in post-chemo cell death puzzle

Monday, September 11, 2017

Because anticancer drugs are designed to kill growing cells, they also affect normal, fast-growing cells—blood cells forming in the bone marrow, for example, and digestive, reproductive, and hair follicle cells. Chemotherapy may also affect cells in vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system.

Researchers at the University of Rochester, collaborating with colleagues at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Oslo, have identified a protein that is required for cell death after undergoing chemotherapy—at least, it appears, in male mice.

“That was the unexpected part,” says Dragony Fu, an assistant professor of biology at Rochester and corresponding author of the study, regarding the sex-specific nature of the experimental results.

Read More: Protein identified in post-chemo cell death puzzle

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

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.

Matt

Matthew Payea (left) with Dr. Jeffrey Hayes

Laxmi

Laxmi Narayan Mishra (left) with Dr. Jeffrey Hayes

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

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

Mitchell O'Connell Lab To Open

Monday, December 12, 2016

Current Postdoctoral Berkeley Fellow, Mitchell O'Connell, Ph.D. is set to open his new lab in April 2017, in the department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, at URMC. Currently Mitch is working in Jennifer Doudna's lab and his research aims to understand the mechanisms of RNA-mediated gene regulation through the development of new RNA-targeting tools based on CRISPR/Cas technology.

Welcome Mitch!

‘Antisense’ compounds offer new weapon against influenza A

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Challenging a long-held convention, University researchers have shown they can inhibit the influenza A virus by targeting its genomic RNA with “antisense” compounds.

Their findings, highlighted on the cover of Nucleic Acid Therapeutics, offer scientists a new way to attack an increasingly drug-resistant pathogen that causes an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths a year.

“Antisense” compounds are synthesized with nucleotides, the building blocks of nucleic acid, often shown as various combinations of A, U, G and C. When the compounds – called antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) – bind to the targeted genomic RNA, they block its ability to replicate.

The collaboration, involving the labs of Douglas Turner, professor of chemistry; Luis Martinez-Sobrido, associate professor of microbiology and immunology; and two researchers in Poland, reported that “antisense” compounds targeting one of the virus’ eight genomic RNA segments caused a five- to 25-fold reduction of influenza A virus in cell cultures.

“That’s a big difference,” Martinez-Sobrido says. “When mice are infected with 10,000 viruses, they all die. However, with 25 times less virus, all animals can survive infection and they don’t even develop symptoms.”

Read More: ‘Antisense’ compounds offer new weapon against influenza A

NIH Director Visits URMC, Says it’s an Exciting Time to be a Researcher

Monday, October 10, 2016

NIH director round tableCollins’ first stop was lunch with 15 graduate students and postdocs who came prepared with a wide range of questions. The discussion covered the importance of communicating science to the public and policymakers, increasing diversity in biomedical research and new mechanisms to support young scientists at the start of their careers. Postdoctoral fellow Sarah Latchney and Ph.D. graduate student Solomon Abiola attended the lunch with Collins and describe the experience here.

Members of the Center for RNA Biology highlighted their most promising work for Collins and Center director Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., gave Collins a tour of her lab, where he met more trainees and junior researchers (admittedly, Collins’ favorite part of visits like these).

Dr. Collins SpeakingIn his keynote address at the end of the day, Collins delivered an uplifting message to a packed house in the Class of ’62 auditorium: it is an extremely exciting time to be in biomedical research, and after many lean years we are turning a corner, with the NIH budget finally increasing in real terms. He detailed several of the NIH’s new programs, like the Human Microbiome Project, Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K), the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot.

He applauded URMC on the renewal of the CTSI funding and cited the translational research conducted by Arthur J. Moss, M.D., which has led to new treatments for patients with Long QT syndrome (LQTS), and John J. Treanor, M.D., which is helping scientists in pursuit of a universal flu vaccine. Collins outlined several new funding initiatives, including the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, which is helping assistant professor Elaine L. Hill, Ph.D., study the impact of fracking on infant and child health.

Collins affirmed that the U.S. is the strongest biomedical research country in the world thanks to institutions like URMC. You can view his keynote, “Exceptional Opportunities in Biomedical Research,” here.

Read More: NIH Director Visits URMC, Says it’s an Exciting Time to be a Researcher

American Health Council Names Dr. Harold Smith, Ph.D. to Education Board

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dr. Harold Smith, Professor at The University of Rochester, has been selected to join the Education Board at the American Health Council. Dr. Smith will be sharing his knowledge and expertise in the field of molecular biology, molecular virology, RNA biology, and drug discovery.

Dr. Harold Smith became involved in research after beginning his career as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry at The University of Rochester. As a biophysics professor, he utilized his knowledge and expertise in the areas of research and innovation of RNA, protein molecular biology, cell regulation, and drug discovery. Furthermore, Dr. Smith develops curriculum, teaches and mentors students from high school to postgraduate.

Dr. Harold Smith is also the Founder, President, and CEO of OyaGen, Inc. The objective of OyaGen, Inc. is to induce transient and beneficial changes in the protein expression and function in human tissues by involving the editing enzymes in targeting biomedically relevant pathways.

Dr. Harold Smith is a member of The American Heart Association, The Council on Atherosclerosis, The RNA Society, The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a fellow in the The Royal Society of Biology. In addition, Dr. Smith serves on the Scientific Advisor Board of Cannabis Sciences, Inc., IgxBio, Inc. and Trovita Health Sciences as well as the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Virology and AIDS, Frontiers in Microbiology, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, and The Journal of BioDiscovery.

Read More: American Health Council Names Dr. Harold Smith, Ph.D. to Education Board

Maquat Featured at Cornell-Ithaca Creativity Workshop

Saturday, July 30, 2016

RocHackHealth Group

J. Lowell Orbison Chair of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and of Oncology, Lynne Maquat, PhD, was a featured speaker at The Creativity Spark: a creativity workshop for scientists, a workshop put on by Cornell University, July 25.

The creativity workshop featured award winning scientists and scholars, including two Nobel Laureates, as they discussed the Creativity Spark and its role in science exploration.

URMC Team Revises Understanding of Genetic Code

Friday, July 1, 2016

Grayhack lab photo

Beth Grayhack, Ph.D., with lab
members and grad students
Christina Brule and Jiyu Wang

Scientists for years have known that the genetic code found in all living things contains many layers of complexity. But new research from the University of Rochester cracks the code more deeply, clarifying for example why some genes are inefficiently translated into proteins.

In a study published in the journal Cell, the researchers, co-led by Beth Grayhack, Ph.D., of the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry, discovered the existence and identity of 17 pairs of inefficient codons (DNA nucleotides or bases) within the genetic code.

Scientists have generally considered each piece of the genetic code (or codon) as a single “word” in a language. But the new data suggests some codon combinations act as compound words or phrases whose order and pairing has a significant impact on the translation of genes into proteins.

“Consider the words ‘pancake’ versus ‘cake pan,’ “ said Grayhack, an associate professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Pediatrics, and Cancer, in the Center for RNA Biology, at the UR Medical Center.

Read More: URMC Team Revises Understanding of Genetic Code

Review: Giving Gene Editing Technology CRISPR-Cas9 a Boost

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A new gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 has taken the scientific world by storm. It allows researchers to quickly and easily make changes to the DNA of humans, animals and plants. The hope is that CRISPR-Cas9 may be used in the future to eliminate or correct faulty genes that cause disease.DNA

In a recent issue of the journal Cell, Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D. and Maximilian W. Popp, Ph.D. of the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology describe how scientists can make this technology more efficient. Understanding the principles of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), a cellular mechanism that Maquat discovered early in her career, will help anyone employing the technology achieve a better result – namely, a more complete knock out or deletion of a desired gene.

Read More: Review: Giving Gene Editing Technology CRISPR-Cas9 a Boost

Clara Kielkopf Receives EvansMDS Discovery Research Grant

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Biochemistry & Biophysics Associate Professor, Clara Kielkopf's project, entitled, Structural mechanisms and targeting of MOS-relevant pre-mRNA splicing factors has been selected by EvansMDS for funding for 2016. This year EvansMDS requested 12 full DRG proposals and were able to fund 6 of them. Their hope is that these findings will translate into improvements in therapy that can be delivered to MDS patients.

The Kielkopf lab investigates splicing defects in hematologic malignancies; roles of human pre-mRNA splicing factors in HIV-1 infectivity; development of engineered splicing factors for correction of splicing defects and splice sites and their associated proteins as therapeutic targets.

Harold Smith Publishes Commentary on RNA and DNA Editing

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Epigenetics is a popular, yet still mysterious concept in health and medicine. It’s the study of a variety of biological processes that alter the expression of our genes. Sometimes this involves modifying the structure of our chromosomes to mask or unmask genes, and other times the actual genetic code is changed in certain cells. Harold C. Smith, Ph.D., a longtime professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry has studied epigenetics in a research focus known as RNA and DNA editing since it was introduced two decades ago. He was invited to write a commentary on the progress and future of this research, published today in Trends in Biochemical Sciences, and answers a few questions about the subject.

Read More: Harold Smith Publishes Commentary on RNA and DNA Editing

Harold Smith Inducted into Royal Society of Biology

Friday, April 8, 2016

Dr. Harold Smith, Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics has been inducted into the Royal Society of Biology.

A long time member of the department, Dr. Smith's primary interest is understanding the composition, regulation and structure of macromolecular complexes involved in regulating gene expression at the level of messenger RNA expression and processing. The lab's focus is on a platform of enzymes that change the genetic code at the DNA or RNA level by deaminating cytidine to form uridine. Current data suggest that this family of cytidine deaminase function with other proteins (auxiliary proteins) as holoenzymes complexes which we refer to as editosomes (for RNA) or mutasomes (for DNA). RNA editing or DNA mutational activity by these enzymes affect the protein coding capacity of mRNAs and thereby can diversify the proteins that are expressed by cells (the proteome). Please visit the Smith Lab for more information. Dr. Smith has a 30 year track record of teaching and mentoring graduate students, medical students and undergraduates at the University of Rochester and has lead curriculum design and reform for these programs.

The Royal Society of Biology (RSB), previously called the Society of Biology, is a learned society in the United Kingdom created to advance the interests of biology in academia, industry, education, and research. Formed in 2009 by the merger of the Biosciences Federation and the Institute of Biology, the society has around 16,000 individual members, and over 100 member organizations. In addition to engaging the public on matters related to the life sciences, the society seeks to develop the profession and to guide the development of related policies.

Professor Harold Smith to Organize Meeting on Drug Discovery

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Clinical Science and Drug Discovery Conference had its inaugural meeting in 2015 in Baltimore, MD where Dr. Smith was asked to serve as a Keynote Speaker (and judge for poster sessions). The organizers of that meeting nominated him to organize this years meeting in Dundee, Scotland along with Drs. Ian Catchpole from GlaxoSmithKline in the UK and Nikolai Zhelev, professor at Abertay University, the hosting institution. The meeting will be held July 27-29. Dr. Smith will also deliver a keynote lecture at this meeting and chair a special topics session that he is bringing together on 'Host Cell Factors as Therapeutic Targets'. For more information, please visit the Drug Discovery Summit site, see also the CSDD Brochure.

B&B Professor Harold Smith and Oyagen's Drug Development Highlighted on Local TV for World Aids Day

Friday, December 4, 2015

OyaGen, a small medical research firm off Jefferson Road in Henrietta, has used federal grants for its HIV drug discovery programs with the goal of finding a cure. Dr. Harold Smith, Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics at the University of Rochester, and the company's founder, president and CEO got his start as a molecular biologist studying heart disease.

"It became clear to me that the things we were doing to study heart disease and find out why things were happening translated directly into the HIV research arena," Smith said.

By 2010, things kicked into high gear. Advanced robotics were added allowing scientists to work with advanced chemistries. They've now identified a weak point in the HIV virus that's never been exploited before. Vif is a viral defense HIV releases into cells it infects. It destroys the body's natural defense against infections. OyaGen discovered a way to defeat HIV by disabling Vif.

"If we can proceed along track, we will be looking at entering clinical trials within a completely different way of approaching the virus and the disease within three years," Smith said.

Gloria Culver to Be Installed as Dean

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Former Biochemistry graduate student and current Chair of Biology, Dr. Gloria Culver, will be formally installed as dean of the School of Arts & Sciences during an investiture ceremony at 4 p.m. today in the Interfaith Chapel on the River Campus.

University Trustee Ani Gabrellian ’84 will provide opening remarks, followed by words from Provost Peter Lennie, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences & Engineering. Mariette Westermann, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, will serve as guest speakers. Following the ceremony, a reception will be held in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library.

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Lynne Maquat Receives Canada’s Top Prize for Biomedical Research

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lynne Maquat recieves award

On October 29, Dr. Lynne E. Maquat received a 2015 Canada Gairdner International Award, for her work discovering and elucidating the mechanism of mRNA decay pathways. Dr. Maquat was accompanied during presentation of the award by University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, Dean Mark Taubman, and the US Ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman (see photo). The sold out annual black tie gala took place at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada and was attended by members of the health care, academic, private and public sectors. Among the attendees were Nobel Laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and the Swiss and Japanese Ambassadors to Canada, who accompanied recipients of the Canada Gairdner International Award from those countries.

Leading up to this event, Dr. Maquat visited four local universities where she spoke to high school students about her personal story of how she became interested in research and what she hopes to achieve through her work. She also met with post-docs and graduate students at each university as well as speaking to faculty members about their research. Following the gala, Dr. Maquat attended and spoke at a 2015 Gairdner Symposium RNA and The New Genetics at the University of Toronto, which she helped coordinate. Her last event occurred at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton where she once again spoke to high school students On being a Scientist: Uncovering the mysteries of life and met with post-docs and graduate students about their research. Dr. Maquat took every opportunity to be part of the National Program, where the goal of these programs is to contribute to Canadian science culture and innovation, and to be part of the Student Outreach Programs where she helped realize one of the Gairdner Foundation’s missions to inspire young people to consider a career in science, and to increase their awareness of the value of scientific research.

A local reception was also held to honor Dr. Maquat; pictures available here.

Maquat and Kurosaki Awarded Fellowship

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lynne Maquat, the J. Lowell Orbison Distinguished Service Alumni Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Research Assistant Professor, Tatsuaki Kurosaki, Ph.D. have been awarded FRAXA Postdoctoral Fellowship for their application entitled, Re-purposing clinically approved drugs to dampen hyperactive nonsense-mediated mRNA decay in fragile X syndrome.

The FRAXA Research Foundation was extremely impressed with their proposed research, and delighted to support this exciting work. Funding of 45,000 has been authorized for the period from May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016.

Congrats to both Lynne and Tatsuaki!

Gloria Culver, Biochemistry Program Graduate, Appointed Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gloria Culver, former Biochemistry graduate student in the Phizicky Lab, has been appointed dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, effective immediately. Culver is currently a professor of Biology and Biochemistry & Biophysics. Peter Lennie, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences & Engineering, made the announcement following a yearlong national search. Culver has been serving as interim dean since July 1, 2014.

Read More: Gloria Culver, Biochemistry Program Graduate, Appointed Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences

Harold Smith Awarded Drug Development Pilot Award

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Biochemistry & Biophysics Professor, Harold Smith, PhD has been awarded a Drug Development Pilot Award for his project, Development of an Assay for High Throughput Screening for Antagonists of the Ebola VP40 Protein Function. The project was externally reviewed by leading drug development researchers and received a meritorious score. To learn about Dr. Smith's research please visit the Smith lab site.

Congrats Harold!

Blocking Cellular Quality Control Mechanism Gives Cancer Chemotherapy a Boost

Friday, March 27, 2015

A University of Rochester team found a way to make chemotherapy more effective, by stopping a cellular quality-control mechanism, according to a study published today in Nature Communications.

The mechanism is known as NMD (nonsense-mediated mRNA decay), and scientists found that exposing breast cancer cells to a molecule that inhibits NMD prior to treatment with doxorubicin, a drug used to treat leukemia, breast, bone, lung and other cancers, hastens cell death.

The research team, led by Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., director of the Center for RNA Biology at the University of Rochester, acknowledges that the work is in the early stages and a long way from being applied in humans. But, they believe their data provide insights that could lead to new treatment strategies for cancer patients in the future.

Read More: Blocking Cellular Quality Control Mechanism Gives Cancer Chemotherapy a Boost

Lynne Maquat Receives 2015 Gairdner International Award

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D. received the 2015 Gairdner International Award for the discovery and mechanistic studies of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, a cellular quality control mechanism that derails the production of unwanted proteins in the body that can disrupt normal processes and initiate disease. She is one of five scientists honored with the award, which is given every year to recognize the achievement of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life.

The J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Maquat is known around the world for her work on nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, which is critically important in both normal and disease states. She is considered the uncontested pioneer on the subject and in 2011 was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for her exceptional research, which has been published in more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Maquat is the first scientist from upstate New York to receive the Gairdner International Award, which is recognized for its rigorous peer-led selection process. A panel of active Canadian scientists reviews all nominations and passes their recommendations to a board of two dozen senior scientists from across Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan. After in-depth study and review, board members cast votes for the nominees whose achievements rise above all others in their field. According to the Gairdner Foundation, of the 313 winners to date, 82 have gone on to receive a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, a testament to the quality of the awardees.

The award was also highlighted in the Opinion pages of Saturday’s Democrat and Chronicle in the Thumbs up, thumbs down section: Thumbs up: For Dr. Lynne Maquat, who is one of five biomedical researchers from around the world to win this year's Gairdner International Award. The University of Rochester Medical Center scientist has joined a prestigious group. Since 1959, more than a quarter of the Gairdner International winners have gone on to win a Nobel Prize, too.

Read More: Lynne Maquat Receives 2015 Gairdner International Award

Biochemistry & Biophysics Secondary Faculty Featured in Rochester Review

Friday, December 5, 2014

We were pleased to see Gloria Culver, Ph.D., a secondary faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, mentioned in the Rochester Review Magazine in an article titled Going After Harmful Bacteria:

One challenge in killing off harmful bacteria is that many of them develop resistance to antibiotics. Now researchers are targeting the formation of the protein-making machinery, or ribosomes, in those cells as a possible way to stop the bacteria. Gloria Culver, Professor of Biology, has, for the first time, isolated the middle steps in the process that creates the ribosomes.

Published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, Culver’s work—conducted with graduate student Neha Gupta—captures a piece of ribosomal RNA in one of the intermediate states of being pared down to fit with protein molecules.

Read More: Biochemistry & Biophysics Secondary Faculty Featured in Rochester Review

Department Welcomes New Faculty Member!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Photo of Xin Li, Ph.D.

Xin Li, Ph.D.

The Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics welcomes the arrival of Xin Li, Ph.D., who is a new Assistant Professor. Dr. Li studies the roles of PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) in the development of germ cells and to causes of infertility in humans and animals.

Dr. Li was previously a postdoctoral fellow with Philip Zamore at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Please feel free to visit his personal and lab websites and view his CV.

Maquat Receives Prestigious NIH MERIT Award

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D., the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, has received a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health to continue her research in RNA biology.

Maquat is an internationally recognized expert in the field of RNA biology, in which she works to discover new cellular pathways and clues to the molecular basis of human disease. She is the Founding Director of the University’s Center for RNA Biology and in 2011 was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She is one of three faculty members from SMD who have been appointed to the Academy and the only woman.

The MERIT award (the acronym stands for Method for Extending Research In Time) was established by NIH in 1986 to provide stable, long-term grant support to help top scientists pursue ambitious projects that require more time to develop -- with the idea that higher-risk research can lead to higher-impact findings. The award also lifts the burden of applying for new grants to fund their research. MERIT recipients receive five years of funding and are afforded a simplified renewal for a second five-year period, cutting out the complex reapplication process, as long as they meet certain criteria showing that their research has yielded results.

Scientists cannot apply for the award; they are nominated by the funding NIH institute. Less than five percent of NIH-funded investigators are selected.

Biochemistry & Biophysics Professor's Company Featured in Article

Monday, March 3, 2014

Professor Harold Smith's company OyaGen was recently featured in a 2-page article in the February issue of A&U Magazine, a publication devoted to art, activism, and current events related to the HIV-affected community. The article discussed exciting new potential treatments being developed at OyaGen and can be read online here.

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Lynne Maquat Wins 2014 Athena Award

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Athena Award - Maquat

Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D.

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, was named the 2014 Athena Award winner today at a special luncheon at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The award, presented annually by the Women's Council of the Rochester Business Alliance, recognizes women who excel in their professions, give back to their communities and mentor other women for leadership roles.

Maquat is an internationally recognized expert in the field of RNA biology in which she works to discover new cellular pathways and clues to the molecular basis of human disease. She is the Founding Director of the University's Center for RNA Biology and in 2011 received one of the highest honors possible for any scientist - election to the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, having spent her career advocating for young women in the sciences, Maquat founded the University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science Program (GWIS) in 2003. Elected for her exceptional research, which has been published in more than 110 peer reviewed scientific journals, Maquat is one of only three faculty members from the University of Rochester Medical Center who have been appointed to the Academy and the only woman.

The Athena award program was founded in 1982 to recognize and honor the achievements of outstanding female leaders and introduced to Rochester in 1987. This year, Maquat was one of thirteen women chosen as finalists by the Rochester Women's Council for their professional excellence, community service and active and generous assistance in helping other women develop leadership skills.

To read more please see the Democrat & Chronicle article about the award.

Read More: Lynne Maquat Wins 2014 Athena Award