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Each year the Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences Program (PCSP) recognizes their outstanding students and faculty. Krege Christison ’19 was awarded Graduate Seminarian of the Year and Siwen Wang ’18 was awarded Graduate Seminarian of the Year Runner Up. Carim Van Beek ’19 received the Graduate Seminar Series Award of Merit and Jerry Tsai, PhD, professor and co-chair of the Department of Chemistry was named Graduate Advisor of the Year. They shared with us about their research and what they hope to contribute to science.

Krege Christison ’19

What is your research focus?

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Christison: “The statistical analysis of mass spectral data from complex mixtures in order to elucidate the underlying cause of differences between samples. This is a tool that can be used to study many different systems, from proteins and metabolites to crude oil and fuels.”

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Dr. Tsai: “Trying to understand the rules that define a protein’s structure. Knowing a protein’s structure makes designing drugs against it much easier.”

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Van Beek: “The development of new tools for the organic synthesis of complex drug molecules. The design of many novel drugs is based on the structures of compounds found in nature, known to have some biological activity. Unfortunately, these types of compounds typically comprise complex molecular structures, making their synthesis extremely challenging. By developing synthetic tools, in the form of specific catalysts, certain transformations in the synthesis of such complex molecules, can be realized.”

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Wang: “Human telomerase inhibitor designs and evaluations. Telomerase is an enzyme that is only over expressed in tumor cells and plays crucial roles in cancer cell replications. Targeting and inhibiting telomerases are very promising strategies to control the cancer cell proliferations.”

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Jerry Tsai, PhD

What do you hope to contribute to science?

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Christison: “I hope to help develop better analytical methodologies that allow us to understand complex systems on the molecular level. I would expand the data collection side of my research through acquiring more instrumentation that would allow for the analysis of samples from different angles.”

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Dr. Tsai: “I want my research to improve our understanding of the basic rules that govern biological molecules.”

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Van Beek: “I would devote my research to the development and production of novel drug compounds in an economic manner. Currently, the treatment of certain diseases can be increasingly expensive for the patient, dependent on the rarity of the illness. [In some cases] a cure has been found, yet is has not been feasible for the company to develop this cure commercially due to the high price of production.”

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Wang: “[To] develop more chemicals that can control cancer cell growths and try my best to push them into clinical applications.”

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Carim Van Beek ’19

Siwen Wang ’18

 How is your research moving us closer to that goal?

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Christison: “I am currently studying a complex system by the application of high-performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) and comprehensive gas chromatography x gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCxGC/MS) and then performing statistical analysis of the data. Hopefully, the key learnings from the studies will help others study similar systems in the future.”

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Dr. Tsai: “My group performs in depth data mining studies to reverse engineer the rules determining protein structure.”

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Van Beek: “Using the catalytic tools that I’m developing in my research, such steps could be realized selectively (no byproducts) and efficiently (high yields) greatly reducing their production costs.”

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Wang: “My research, so far, already synthesized and evaluated more than 30 different small molecules and many of them show very promising telomerase inhibition effects that will be studied more to be improved into promising pre-drugs.”

When someone visits your lab what are you excited to show them?

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Christison: “If my visitor doesn’t have a technical background, I enjoy showing them the instruments and explaining what they do. If they do, I enjoy showing them the data visualizations that can be created through some of the statistical analysis software packages. It is amazing how much information can be pulled out of data that appears irrelevant to the naked eye.”

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Dr. Tsai: “I am most excited these days to show that our approach has helped to develop peptides that can identify breast cancer cells.”

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Van Beek: “The one thing that I am most excited about is actually not inside our lab, but it is a device that I most frequently use and is invaluable to the organic chemist: our nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. This device utilizes the exact same principle as MRI but instead of looking, for example, inside someone’s head, you look at the connectivity of a molecule.”

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Wang: “For any visitors, I will be very excited to show them how we can synthesize oligo DNA, detect telomerase activities and study drug inhibitions in vitro.”


By Anne Marie H. Bergthold
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