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Areas of Interest

The VICB boasts over 90 faculty members, with appointments in 18 departments located in the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences. Consequently, VICB research spans a broad range of interests and is characterized by interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches. Many VICB members have affiliations with other key institutes and centers at Vanderbilt, including the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) the Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS), the Center for Structural Biology (CSB), the Mass Spectrometry Research Center (MSRC) and the Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE). All investigators enjoy access to VICB core facilities that provide chemical synthesis, high throughput screening, antibody production, and small molecule NMR services.

 

Cancer research is a major focus of investigation within the VICB as exemplified by the fact that nearly half of the Institute’s members also belong to the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. VICB researchers address every aspect of cancer biology and medicine from the underlying genetic mutations that lead to malignancy to new approaches for cancer prevention, detection, and therapy.

Cancer research is a major focus of investigation within the VICB as exemplified by the fact that nearly half of the Institute’s members also belong to the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. VICB researchers address every aspect of cancer biology and medicine from the underlying genetic mutations that lead to malignancy to new approaches for cancer prevention, detection, and therapy. The VICB is home to vibrant programs in cancer drug discovery and supports those efforts with a strong foundation in basic research. VICB members explore a wide range of topics directly related to cancer biology, including the chemical basis of DNA damage, the biochemistry of DNA replication and repair, and the derangements in metabolic and cell signaling pathways that contribute to malignancy and metastasis. Other VICB researchers explore new methods for the diagnosis of cancer and ways to monitor response to therapy. The following VICB members have active research programs in cancer biology and medicine.

Members:

MANUEL ASCANO
MINGFENG BAI 
JOSHUA BAUER
RICHARD CAPRIOLI
WALTER CHAZIN
BOB COFFEY
DAVID CORTEZ
BRANDT EICHMAN
STEPHEN FESIK
JAMES GOLDENRING
FRED GUENGERICH
REBECCA IHRIE
JONATHAN IRISH
JEFF JOHNSTON
CARRIE JONES
DEBORAH LANNIGAN 
ROBERT LAVIERI
GALINA LEPESHEVA 
CARLOS LOPEZ
CHARLES MANNING
LARRY MARNETT
JASON MACGURN
HOURA MERRIKH 
GINGER MILNE
GREGOR NEUERT
NEIL OSHEROFF
WELLINGTON PHAM
JENNIFER PIETENPOL
CARMELLO RIZZO
MIKE STONE
GARY SULIKOWSKI
BRIAN WADZINSKI
ALEX WATERSON
JOHN WILSON

 

The rapid rise of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacterial species presents one of the greatest challenges to biomedical research for the foreseeable future, while viral and parasitic diseases remain an ongoing threat.

Consequently, VICB researchers are exploring new ways to combat infectious diseases, including exploration of the mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions, identification of new targets for antibacterial and antiviral drug discovery, and development of better devices for infectious disease diagnosis. An alternative approach, directed against the malaria parasite, is to find small molecules that interfere with the vector mosquito’s ability to locate a blood meal host through its sense of smell. The following members have active research programs in infectious diseases and immunity.

Members:

MANUEL ASCANO  
BRIAN BACHMANN
SETH BORDENSTEIN
WALTER CHAZIN
JAMES CROWE 
JEROD DENTON
MARIA HADJIFRANGISKOU
JEFF JOHNSTON
CARRIE JONES
BORDEN LACY
LARS PLATE
ERIC SKAAR
STEVEN TOWNSEND
DAVE WEAVER
JOHN WILSON
DAVID WRIGHT
LARRY ZWIEBEL

As the population ages, neurodegenerative diseases are becoming an increasingly important public health problem. Thus, VICB members are collaborating with the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery VCNDD to identify new therapeutic approaches to diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In support of these drug discovery efforts, VICB members are actively exploring the metabolic and cell signaling pathways that underlie neurological function in health and disease, including mechanisms of neurotransmission, accumulation of protein deposits in the brain, the molecular basis of drug abuse, the neurological control of hunger, and the biochemical foundation of circadian rhythms. The following members have active research programs in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases.

Members:

BREANN BROWN 
JEFF CONN
JEROD DENTON
VSEVOLOD GUREVICH
CARL JOHNSON
CARRIE JONES
CRAIG LINDSLEY
GINGER MILNE
COLLEEN NISWENDER
LARS PLATE
RENA ROBINSON
CHARLES SANDERS
DAVID SWEATT
DAVE WEAVER

Chemical biology approaches are highly useful in the quest to expand our understanding of the mechanisms of cellular signaling. Frequently, tools developed in these endeavors provide the foundation for drug discovery programs targeting key components of signaling pathways.

VICB researchers explore the full range of signaling events from the perspective of a single cell to that of the entire organism. They dissect specific transduction pathways and their effects on fundamental processes such as cardiovascular development and feeding behavior. The following members have active research programs in cell signaling.

Members:

MANUEL ASCANO
JOSHUA BAUER
ALAN BRASH
RICHARD BREYER
BREANN BROWN 
WALTER CHAZIN
WENBIAO CHEN
BOB COFFEY
VSEVOLOD GUREVICH
JAMES GOLDENRING
MARIA HADJIFRANGISKOU
HEIDI HAMM
REBECCA IHRIE
JONATHAN IRISH
TINA IVERSON
CARL JOHNSON
CARRIE JONES
DEBORAH LANNIGAN 
ROBERT LAVIERI
CARLOS LOPEZ
JASON MACGURN
GREGOR NEUERT
COLLEEN NISWENDER
RICHARD O'BRIEN
ADRIAN OLIVARES 
LARS PLATE
CHARLES SANDERS
BRIAN WADZINSKI
DAVE WEAVER
JOHN YORK
LARRY ZWIEBEL

The tools of chemical biology contribute substantially to the study of protein structure and dynamics.

VICB researchers are exploiting these tools to explore a wide array of key questions, ranging from the dynamics of transporter proteins to the structural foundation of basement membrane and the biochemical mechanisms of enzymes that detoxify xenobiotic compounds. The following members have active research programs in protein structure and function.

Members:

MANUEL ASCANO
SETH BORDENSTEIN
ALAN BRASH
BREANN BROWN 
WALTER CHAZIN
JAMES CROWE 
JEROD DENTON
BRANDT EICHMAN
FRED GUENGERICH
VSEVOLOD GUREVICH
BILLY HUDSON
CARRIE JONES
BORDEN LACY
ROBERT LAVIERI
GALINA LEPESHEVA 
CARLOS LOPEZ
JASON MACGURN
LARRY MARNETT
HASSANE MCHAOURAB
JENS MEILER
HOURA MERRIKH 
RICHARD O'BRIEN
ADRIAN OLIVARES 
LARS PLATE
RENA ROBINSON
CHARLES SANDERS
KEVIN SCHEY
CLAUS SCHNEIDER
STEVEN TOWNSEND
BRIAN WADZINSKI
JOHN YORK
MARIJA ZANIC

 

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are a key component of cell membranes. These lipids are subject to damage from free radicals generated during normal metabolism and stress responses. They are also substrates for enzymes (cyclooxygenases and lipoxygenases) that add oxygen atoms, converting the fatty acids to lipid signaling molecules.

During both enzymatic and nonenzymatic oxidation of lipids, reactive fragments can be generated. These “lipid electrophiles” react with other cellular constituents, including DNA and proteins, leading to damage that can contribute to disease processes, including neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. A number of VICB members focus their research on understanding the mechanisms of lipid oxidation and its role in both health and disease. Research programs include studies of the role of cyclooxygenases and lipoxygenases in cell signaling, the DNA and protein targets of lipid electrophile damage, novel mechanisms of lipid oxidation, and in vivo biomarkers of lipid oxidation. The following members have active research programs in lipid oxidation in health and disease.

Members:

ALAN BRASH
RICHARD BREYER
SEAN DAVIES
CARRIE JONES
LARRY MARNETT
GINGER MILNE
KEVIN NISWENDER  
CLAUS SCHNEIDER

Nature offers a marvelous diversity of chemical structures, and many of our valuable therapeutic agents have been derived from natural products. Thus, there is a growing interest in mining these resources for new drug discovery efforts.

The chemistry of natural products is often complex and requires specialized synthetic and analytic techniques. VICB chemists are meeting this challenge through programs designed to isolate and identify novel natural products, to chemically synthesize natural products, and to chemically and biochemically alter natural products structures to obtain molecules with optimized bioactivities. The following members have active research programs in natural products.

Members:

BRIAN BACHMANN
JEFF JOHNSTON
CRAIG LINDSLEY
HOURA MERRIKH 
ANTONIS ROKAS
GARY SULIKOWSKI
STEVEN TOWNSEND

 

A successful chemical biology program requires a strong foundation in synthetic chemistry. Through the Chemical Synthesis Core, VICB chemists support research efforts across the entire Vanderbilt Campus.

But equally important, these researchers are actively discovering new reactions and reaction mechanisms that broaden our fundamental understanding of chemistry. The following members have active research programs in synthetic and medicinal chemistry.

Members:

PLAMON CHRISTOV
JEFF JOHNSTON
CARRIE JONES
KWANGHO KIM
GALINA LEPESHEVA 
CRAIG LINDSLEY
CHARLES MANNING
LARRY MARNETT
HOURA MERRIKH 
RICHARD O'BRIEN
WELLINGTON PHAM
CARMELLO RIZZO
ANTONIS ROKAS
SANDY ROSENTHAL
NATHAN SCHLEY
GARY SULIKOWSKI
STEVEN TOWNSEND
ALEX WATERSON
JOHN WILSON

 

Key to the practice of chemical biology is the discovery of new molecular probes that can be used to investigate the role of specific biochemical and signaling pathways in physiological or pathophysiological processes.

In addition to providing new insights into critical questions in biology, molecular probes also often pave the way for the development of new therapeutic agents. Efficient molecular probe discovery requires high-throughput screening and chemical synthesis capabilities. The VICB is at the cutting edge in both of these critical disciplines, and its High-Throughput Screening and Chemical Synthesis Cores extend the Institute’s expertise to researchers across the Vanderbilt campus. The following members have active research programs in high-throughput synthesis and screening.

Members:

JOSHUA BAUER
STEPHEN FESIK
JENNIFER HERINGTON
CARRIE JONES
CRAIG LINDSLEY
HOURA MERRIKH 
COLLEEN NISWENDER
RICHARD O'BRIEN
GARY SULIKOWSKI
PAIGE VINSON  
ALEX WATERSON
DAVE WEAVER

 

The past 20 years have seen an explosion in mass spectrometry technology, greatly facilitating the analysis of small molecules and macromolecules in a diverse range of contexts, including pure samples, complex mixtures, and even intact tissues. 

The Mass Spectrometry Research Center brings all of these new analytical modalities to Vanderbilt, and VICB investigators have not hesitated to capitalize on the advantages that state-of-the-art mass spectrometry has to offer. The following members have active research programs in mass spectrometry.

Members:

SETH BORDENSTEIN
RICHARD CAPRIOLI
JAMES GOLDENRING
JONATHAN IRISH
CARRIE JONES
JOHN MCLEAN
GINGER MILNE
HOURA MERRIKH
LARS PLATE
RENA ROBINSON
KEVIN SCHEY

 

Nanotechnology is an exciting new field that interfaces chemistry, biology, and engineering to develop novel particulate materials of less than 100 nm diameter.

The huge diversity of substances that can be produced through this new technology holds promise for revolutionizing multiple aspects of biology and medicine including in vivo and ex vivo imaging, drug delivery, protein and peptide delivery, and cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. The following members have active research programs in nanoscience.

Members:

DAVE CLIFFEL
CARRIE JONES
SANDY ROSENTHAL
JOHN WILSON
DAVID WRIGHT

 

A revolution in biological imaging at the cellular and whole animal level is taking place, and VICB researchers are partnering with the Vanderbilt Institute of Imaging Science to maximize opportunities in this emerging field

The following members have active research programs in imaging.

Members:

MINGFENG BAI 
JOSHUA BAUER
RICHARD CAPRIOLI
WENBIAO CHEN
REBECCA IHRIE
CARL JOHNSON
CARRIE JONES
CHARLES MANNING
LARRY MARNETT
HOURA MERRIKH
WELLINGTON PHAM
SANDY ROSENTHAL
KEVIN SCHEY

 

Organic chemists have used NMR for the characterization of small molecules for decades, and the VICB’s Small Molecule NMR Core Facility, under the direction of Don Stec provides state-of-the-art instrumentation and expertise for just that purpose.

However, the use of NMR has now expanded to include the characterization of protein and nucleic acid macromolecules. Many VICB members, some in collaboration with the Center for Structural Biology (CSB), use this approach in addition to other spectroscopic methods to study a wide array biomolecular structures and interactions. The following members have active research programs in NMR and other spectroscopic approaches.

Members:

BREANN BROWN 
WALTER CHAZIN
STEPHEN FESIK
CARRIE JONES
GALINA LEPESHEVA 
HOURA MERRIKH
CHARLES SANDERS
DON STEC
MIKE STONE
MARKUS VOEHLER

 

X-ray crystallography is not a new technique, but recent advances have resulted in improvements in protein crystallization, data acquisition, and data analysis that have kept this approach at the forefront of protein and nucleic acid structure determination

VICB investigators have taken advantage of the latest technology in X-ray crystallography to gain insight into the structure and function of key macromolecules. The following members have active research programs in X-ray crystallography.

Members:

BREANN BROWN 
JAMES CROWE 
BRANDT EICHMAN
STEPHEN FESIK
TINA IVERSON
CARRIE JONES
BORDEN LACY
GALINA LEPESHEVA 
HOURA MERRIKH
NATHAN SCHLEY

 

As the sophistication of molecular modeling and informatics software rapidly increases, computational approaches are taking an increasingly important role in the solution of complex chemical and biological problems.

Many VICB members are successfully using these new methodologies to address interesting research challenges, and some concentrate on improving and/or developing new computational methodology. The following members have active research programs in computational approaches and bioinformatics.

Members:

JAMES CROWE 
REBECCA IHRIE
CARRIE JONES
CARLOS LOPEZ
JENS MEILER
HOURA MERRIKH

 

The ability to generate specific polyclonal, monoclonal and fragment antibodies directed against target antigens has long been an important biochemical and pharmacologic tool.]

Similarly, the availability of high level protein expression in bacterial and mammalian cell systems is a vital tool for chemical biology research. The VICB’s Antibody and Protein Resource Core Facility (VAPR) brings these technologies to the Vanderbilt research community. The following members have active research programs in antibody and protein expression.

Members:

SETH BORDENSTEIN
JAMES CROWE 
JAMES GOLDENRING
CARRIE JONES
ROBERT LAVIERI
PAIGE VINSON
BRIAN WADZINSKI

 

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