Category: Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmacology

Career Conversations: Q&A with Medicinal Inorganic Chemist Eszter Boros

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Dr. Boros wearing a lab coat and gloves and holding a flask.
Dr. Eszter Boros. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Eszter Boros.

“As a researcher, you get to learn something new every day, and that knowledge feeds more questions. It’s this eternal learning process, and I find that really enticing about being in science,” says Eszter Boros, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. Our interview with Dr. Boros highlights her journey of becoming a scientist and her research on biomedical applications of metals.

Q: What drew you to science?

A: I was born and raised in Switzerland, and I went to a linguistics-focused high school there, but I gravitated to chemistry because I loved that we could understand the world at a molecular level and see the macroscopic consequences of microscopic processes.

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Three Brothers Are Making Research a Family Affair

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From left to right: Caleb, Paul, and Adam Worsley sitting on stools in a chemistry lab.
Caleb, Paul, and Adam Worsley. Credit: Pittsburg State University.

“You’re doing something really important with people who are important to you,” Paul Worsley remarks when asked about having his younger brothers Caleb and Adam as lab mates. The trio are undergraduate students working in the lab of Santimukul Santra, Ph.D., at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Paul seated at his chemistry fume hood. Credit: Pittsburg State University.

All three brothers are part of the Kansas IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE). Paul is currently a junior majoring in biology and history. He plans to go to medical school when he graduates, but his time in the lab has given him a love for research—and has even led him to toy with the idea of going to graduate school instead. His twin brothers Caleb and Adam are only freshmen, but they both think they want to pursue scientific research when they graduate.

When Paul was a sophomore, he applied for a K-INBRE research spot in Dr. Santra’s lab and was immediately accepted. He quickly realized that organic chemistry in the lab was much different—and more exciting—than anything he’d seen in the classroom. “I like organic synthesis because it really tests your knowledge,” he says. “Answering exam questions is way different than actually doing it in a lab.” Despite the challenges that came with research, Paul was clearly doing great work because one day Dr. Santra joked, “Hey, you got any brothers?” Paul responded, “Actually, yes.”

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In Other Words: Some Antagonists Are Heroes

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Many of us learned in English class that an antagonist is a person or thing that a hero fights. But in biomedical science, an antagonist is a molecule that binds to a cellular receptor to prevent a response, such as a muscle contraction or hormone release. Antagonists can be important medical treatments, like the antagonist naloxone—also known as Narcan —that can reverse an opioid overdose.

Below the title “Antagonist: In Other Words,” two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left is a dark figure with a hat, and on the right is an antagonist bound to a ribbon model depiction of a receptor. Under the images, text reads: “Did you know? In biomedical science, an antagonist is a molecule that binds to a cellular receptor to prevent a response, such as a muscle contraction or hormone release.” 
Credit: NIGMS; Yekaterina Kadyshevskaya, The Scripps Research Institute.
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Discovering Better Ways to Build Medicinal Molecules

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Dr. Baran standing in front of a chemistry fume hood with molecular structures drawn on it.
Dr. Phil Baran. Credit: Scripps Research.

“I love the mystery of chemistry. It explores the great unknown of the universe,” says Phil Baran, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at Scripps Research, La Jolla, California. His passion for the subject catalyzed a successful career in organic synthesis—building molecules that are the foundation of living things and can be developed as medicines.

Setting His Sights on Science

School didn’t interest Dr. Baran until he found chemistry in 10th grade. “From there, the mission was clear: do whatever was required to do chemistry for the rest of my life,” he says. At the time, that meant achieving certain grades, so he focused on improving his academic performance. He also took courses at a community college and graduated with his high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously.

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In Other Words: The Pathways Inside Our Bodies

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For many people, the word pathway may bring to mind stepping stones in a garden or a trail through a forest. But when biologists talk about a pathway, they’re referring to a series of actions among molecules in a cell that leads to a certain product or change within that cell. Pathways maintain balance during walking, control how the eyes’ pupils respond to light, and affect skin’s reaction to changing temperature. They control our bodies’ responses to the world, and errors in them can lead to disease.

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Fifty Years of the Protein Data Bank!

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Macromolecular structures in the shape of the number 50. Protein Data Bank’s 50 years logo. Credit: PDB website.

The Protein Data Bank (PDB), established in 1971, is the single global repository for 3D structural data of proteins, DNA, RNA, and even complexes these biological molecules form with drugs or other small molecules. More than 1 million people—including researchers, medical professionals, educators, and students—use the PDB each year. NIGMS and other parts of NIH have helped fund this free digital resource since 1978.

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Career Conversations: Q&A with Biologist Akhila Rajan

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A headshot of Dr. Akhila Rajan. Dr. Akhila Rajan. Credit: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“What makes being a scientist exciting is that I don’t know what I’m going to find tomorrow,” says Akhila Rajan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the basic sciences division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Rajan is supported by an NIGMS early stage investigator Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award. These awards provide stable and flexible funding for a program of research that falls within NIGMS’ mission. Check out the highlights of our interview with Dr. Rajan to learn about her research and journey as a scientist.

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It’s Elementary: Celebrating National Chemistry Week

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Happy National Chemistry Week! In honor of this celebration, we’re showcasing posts that focus on elements crucial for human health and scientific exploration. NIGMS-supported scientists are studying how each of these elements (and many others) can impact human health. Check out the list below to learn more, and let us know what your favorite element is in the comments section!

A square showing helium’s abbreviation (He), atomic number (2), and atomic weight (4.003). Credit: Adapted from Compound Interest. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Helium: An Abundant History and a Shortage Threatening Scientific Tools
Scientists first discovered helium burning on the surface of the sun. Today, liquid helium plays an essential role in supercooling vital scientific and medical equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging machines that take images of our internal organs. Unfortunately, our complex history with the element has led to a recent shortage that threatens some types of scientific research.


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Pathways: The Anesthesia Issue

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A magazine cover showing two mushroom-like structures with their wide ends facing each other and small particles between them. Text reads What is this? And what does it have to do with controlling how you feel pain? (Find out inside!). Cover of Pathways student magazine.

NIGMS and Scholastic bring you Pathways: The Anesthesia Issue, which explores pain and the science behind anesthesia—the medical treatment that prevents patients from feeling pain during surgery and other procedures. Without anesthesia, many life-saving medical procedures would be impossible.

Pathways, designed for students in grades 6 through 12, aims to build awareness of basic biomedical science and its importance to health, while inspiring careers in research. All materials in the collection are available online and are free for parents, educators, and students nationwide.

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Could a Spoonful of Sugar Be a Medicine?

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A spade-shaped group of cells glowing red, yellow, and green.
Glycans glow red, yellow, and green in this image of a zebrafish embryo’s jaw. Credit: Carolyn Bertozzi, University of California, Berkeley.

Large sugar molecules called glycans coat every cell in our bodies. They can also be found inside and between cells, and they are important for many biological processes, including how our cells interact with one another and with pathogens. For example, glycans on red blood cells determine blood type, and those on the cells of organs determine whether a person can receive a transplant from a particular donor. Scientists have only begun to explore sugars’ complexities and potential uses. Here, we look at the contributions three NIGMS-supported researchers are making to glycoscience.

Human Milk Sugars

Glycans called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) make up a significant portion of human milk. Study findings have shown that some HMOs can be prebiotics—substances that encourage beneficial bacteria to grow. Research has also revealed that some disease-causing microbes bind to certain HMOs, potentially allowing the germs to pass through the body without causing illness.

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