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News | Integrated Program in Biochemistry | UW-Madison

IPiB News

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    Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB) graduate student Mark Klein and IPiB faculty member Peter Lewis took to the ice during the Wisconsin Badgers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions hockey game on Saturday, Jan. 27 to receive awards to help fund their cancer research.

    Klein is in the lab of biomolecular chemistry professor John Denu and Lewis is an assistant professor of biomolecular chemistry. Both labs are part of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and affiliated with the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

    The awards were sponsored by The Ride, a fundraising event hosted by the Carbone Cancer Center. In its second year, it drew more than 1,250 bike riders to the roads of eastern Dane County in September of 2017 to raise money for cancer research. One hundred percent of the $352,000 raised went back to cancer research at the university in the form of 14 research awards. Awardees were invited onto the ice to be recognized.

    “It was really exciting to win this award and get acknowledged at the hockey game,” says Klein, who has already signed up to participate in the next Ride in September 2018. “We spend a lot of time hunkered down in our labs but getting this award helps us step back and see that our work is novel and meaningful. It was great to have our work on cancer be recognized this way in front of an entire hockey stadium.”

    Klein studies a particular protein that has been implicated in many forms of cancer. Research shows that in ovarian cancer cells, the protein is deficient but when it’s overexpressed in the cells, the protein can prevent cancer. His next step is seeing if he can find a synthetic molecule that can be used to mimic this overexpression and hence possibly help with preventing cancer. However, he says this work also provides an important understanding of the basic mechanisms and functions behind this protein and any synthetic compounds he studies.

    “Mark’s research is focused on understanding how a tumor suppressor enzyme called SIRT6 can be activated by endogenous molecules and on developing a synthetic compound that could function similarly,” Denu says. “Mark has a unique skill of fostering collaborations with other researchers on this campus, including Professor Weiping Tang who is synthesizing potential compounds.” 

    Lewis studies how protein molecules that “spool” the DNA in cells can regulate cellular function and influence how cancer cells grow and respond to treatment. These protein molecules called histones keep the DNA wrapped up in an inaccessible ‘off’ state and releases it when certain genes are needed by the cell. Research shows that specific mutations to the histones are drivers of certain types of pediatric cancers in humans. 

    The Lewis Lab is trying to figure out how and why this happens. They’ve found that specific “oncohistone” mutations drive some pediatric cancers by transforming histone proteins into potent inhibitors of gene regulatory processes. Their work explores fundamental questions in biology but also clinically relevant ones.

    “It was a great surprise and honor to be selected as a Ride Scholar,” says Lewis, who will also participate in the 2018 Ride. “You see the huge amount of work that goes into organizing events like this and the effort all the bikers put in. It’s so great to know their hard work is going directly to cancer research. It’s very humbling to have received an award.”

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    A new chair at the Morgridge Institute for Research takes aim at osteoarthritis, a debilitating and painful disease that affects more than 27 million Americans. Currently, osteoarthritis is largely treated with palliative care to help patients alleviate their symptoms.

    “I think because arthritis is life-altering, not life-threatening, it doesn’t attract the research dollars required to find a solution,” says Peggy Pyle. “It’s time to change that!”

    And Peggy knows. Since she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, she’s been shocked at the lack of research into prevention and irradication of the disease. Treatment options are limited to medications like NSAIDs or joint replacement with no way to stop osteoarthritis’s progression.

    Peggy’s commitment to battling the disease has only increased since her husband Tom was diagnosed with arthritis and underwent a hip replacement.

    Now with support from the Thomas and Margaret Pyle Chair, which honors Tom’s longtime service on the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Board of Trustees, there’s a new commitment to tackling osteoarthritis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Joshua Coon, a professor of chemistry and biomolecular chemistry and Morgridge Institute affiliate, is the inaugural recipient of the chair. The Coon Lab specializes in creating and applying high-powered must-have technologies that help scientists answer biomedical questions with applications for human health.

    “We hope to accelerate technology and accelerate all areas of biological research,” he says. “I really consider our team ‘technologists.’ We are building and developing new tools to measure biomolecules.”

    Coon is a renowned innovator of mass spectrometry technology with more than 100 research collaborations across UW-Madison and the world, including the Morgridge Metabolism Initiative directed by Dave Pagliarini, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and ongoing research supported by the National Institutes of Health to identify molecular markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

    For more of this story, see the link below. 

    URL: https://morgridge.org/story/new-pyle-chair-honors-morgridge-affiliate-joshua-coon/

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    Science is a visual enterprise. Scientific imagery created with microscopes, telescopes, cameras and scanners makes even parts of the world that our eyes can’t perceive visible, understandable and often beautiful.

    To recognize the visual and exploratory value of scientific imagery, the 8th annual Cool Science Image Contest is soliciting the best images from members of the University of Wisconsin–Madison community.

    Sponsored by Promega Corp. with additional support from the UW–Madison Arts Institute and DoIT Digital Publishing and Printing Services, the Cool Science Image Contest offers an opportunity to show off compelling science images made by students, staff or faculty.

    To read more about the contest rules and how to submit an entry see the link below. 

    URL: https://news.wisc.edu/enter-your-amazing-science-images-in-the-2018-cool-science-image-contest/

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    Assistant professor of biochemistry Vatsan Raman was recently named to a list of 44 young researchers featured in Biochemistry’s “Future of Biochemistry” special issue.

    “It’s exciting to be invited to be part of this group, but what’s more exciting is that the rest of the researchers in this group are phenomenal,” Raman says. “I know some of them personally and they really cover the entire spectrum of research and represent the next big things in biochemistry. I’m happy to be a part of an amazing group of people that I respect.”

    For the special issue, he wrote a perspective piece on understanding and designing allosteric proteins, a major part of his research lab. These proteins are mysterious in how they function but play major roles in cellular function, such as signaling, gene regulation, and transport.

    Read more about Raman and his research at the link below.

    URL: https://biochem.wisc.edu/news/2018/news-vatsan-future-biochemistry-2018-01-26

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    The phrase seeing is believing doesn’t just apply to supernatural phenomenon; biochemists often say the same thing when imaging proteins or other molecules for the first time.

    Imaging is a powerful tool in many biochemists’ repertoire. The Department of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is home to a large collection of equipment and facilities, including the Biochemistry Optical Core (BOC) and upcoming UW–Madison cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) facility, that allows scientists to pursue their many imaging endeavors. The department’s goal is simple: to provide faculty, researchers, and students from the department and all across campus with access to these resources and the training to operate them, even if they’ve never used them before.

    Elle Kielar-Grevstad, the director of the BOC and supervisor to the department’s core facility staff, serves to promote and facilitate the department’s mission by helping researchers with their light and fluorescent microscopy needs.

    “Imaging is really capturing a state of being,” she says. “That can mean a lot of things depending on what resolution you require. Whether you are looking at a whole animal, a tissue, a single cell, or a single protein, you’re still capturing a state of being, or in many cases multiple states of being. Your research question will determine the resolution requirements and that in turn dictates what type of equipment you need. The great thing about all the core facilities at Biochemistry is that we can likely help you meet your imaging or experimental needs, and if we can’t, it is our job to connect you with others on campus that can.”

    Learn more about Biochemistry' imaging capabilities and how students can access these resources at the link below. 

    URL: https://biochem.wisc.edu/highlights/2018/highlights-imaging-biochemistry-research-and-beyond

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    Coenzyme Q (CoQ) is a vital cog in the body’s energy-producing machinery, a kind of chemical gateway in the conversion of food into cellular fuel. But six decades removed from its discovery, scientists still can’t describe exactly how and when it is made.

    Dave Pagliarini, associate professor of biochemistry and Intergrated Program in Biochemistry faculty member, says the list of unknowns is daunting. How does it migrate around in the cell? How does it get used up and replenished? What genes and proteins are responsible for CoQ dysfunction? Why does its presence decline as people age?

    Pagliarini, also director of metabolism at the Morgridge Institute for Research, and his group are dedicated to chipping away at many of these knowledge gaps in CoQ production and in understanding the role of CoQ deficiency in human disease. CoQ deficiencies are implicated in scores of diseases, including liver and lung failures, muscle weakness, deafness and many brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and cerebellar ataxia. The coenzyme is almost exclusively produced within the body and is often very difficult to replenish through nutritional supplements.

    Against this backdrop, the Pagliarini lab is developing new tools to shed light on CoQ function, primarily by finding and defining proteins that have a direct link to the chemical. In the past month, Pagliarini’s team has published three collaborative papers that gather multiple layers of information on cells where proteins have been manipulated.

    “A fundamental challenge in biology lies in connecting the many ‘orphan’ proteins in our cells with specific biological processes, such as CoQ biosynthesis,” says Pagliarini. “Once we have a handle on their functions, a second challenge is to devise ways to manipulate the activity of these proteins, pharmacologically or otherwise, to control key biological processes and, ultimately, improve health.”

    Research published in the journals Cell Systems (Dec. 13), Molecular Cell (Dec. 7) and Cell Chemical Biology (Nov. 29) all reveal new clues to coenzyme Q production and function.

    Read about the findings from these three papers at the link below. 

    URL: https://biochem.wisc.edu/news/2018/news-pagliarini-coenzyme-q-2018-01-05