UMass Medical School Faculty

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Research Assiciate Professor Akbar Ali
Assiciate Professor Ali earned a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Karachi (Pakistan) and the Humboldt University of Berlin, and did postdoctoral work at the University of Vermont. His research focuses on discovery and development of small molecule therapeutics against drug-resistant pathogens with specific emphasis on HIV and HCV. One project has targeted P-TEFb, a cellular cofactor essential for HIV replication, identifying highly potent small molecules that selectively inhibit T-TEFb and block HIV-1 replication without affecting cellular transcription and cell viability. He has also led medicinal chemistry efforts in a multi-disciplinary program project to rationally design new HIV protease inhibitors effective against clinically relevant drug-resistant HIV variants, including deciphering the molecular basis of drug resistance against HCV NS3/4A protease inhibitors.

Research Assistant Professor Hong Cao
Assistant Cao earned a Ph.D. from Hiroshima University in Japan in Physical Chemistry with an emphasis on photochemistry and photophysics. She did postdoctoral work at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of New Jersey. She joined the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) in 2002. She is the founder and Director of the Small Molecule Screening Facility, which allows UMMS scientists a unique opportunity to apply the tools and principles of chemistry to understand the processes of living cells. The screening facility assists researchers in developing high-throughput (HT) screening assays, and performs HT screens of chemical libraries to identify new small molecules that can be used to probe biological processes of interest. The facility coordinates the screening efforts of UMMS researchers, providing access to diverse chemical libraries and state-of-the art instruments including robotic compound transfer, liquid-handling equipment, imagers and plate readers. Cao previously served as the Vice Director for the Institute of Photographic Chemistry for the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and holds two patents on HIV-1 protease inhibitors.

Assistant Professor Gang Han
Assistant Professor Han received his PhD in Bionanotechnology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Molecular Foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. His primary expertise is in designing and synthesizing various functional inorganic nanocrystals as novel imaging probes and drug delivery systems. His current research focuses on developing both small and bright tools for biomedical applications—designing synthetic/semi-synthetic nanomaterials with unique programmable physical properties for basic science and biomedical applications. He uses a synergetic multidisciplinary approach, including synthetic chemistry, materials science, biochemistry, and cell biology. In particular, he is most interested in developing optically active nanomaterials for probing signal transduction pathways, single-molecule imaging, synthesizing functional nanoscale scaffolds for targeted and traceable delivery of small molecules to cells and organelles, as well as for accurately detecting biomarkers in early stage disease.

Associate Professor William Kobertz
Associate Professor Kobertz received his Ph.D. from the Department of Chemistry at MIT. He was a Howard Hughes postdoctoral fellow with Christopher Miller at Brandeis University and was also a recipient of a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences. His past research has investigated how potassium channels in the body play a role in various afflictions, from heart attacks to hearing loss. His current research focuses on biochemistry and drug resistance. Specifically, his laboratory focuses on ion channels (proteins that create electrical signals in cells) and membrane-embedded partner proteins that fine-tune the electrical currents of ion channels to achieve particular physiological functions. One of his goals is to construct novel partner proteins and potentially small organic molecules designed to modulate ion channel function. His lab is developing lipomimetic reagents that specifically target proteins in the cellular membrane. Electrophysiology techniques are also used.

Professor Martin Marinus
Before joining UMass Medical School, Professor Marinus studied and taught at the University of Otago (New Zealand), the University of Sussex (United Kingdom), the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), the University of Goettingen (Germany), and the Centre for Molecular Genetics in the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. His primary area of expertise is in DNA repair and recombination as it relates to drug resistance. His specific projects include: (1) recombinational repair of drug-induced damage, studying damage done by cisplatin, methylating agents, bleomycin, and nitric oxide; (2) DNA methylation, studying certain proteins and chromosome structure; (3) DNA mismatch repair and antirecombination, characterizing mutant derivatives of a specific multimer protein which binds to DNA mismatches; and (4) mismatch repair-induced cell death, investigating the mechanism by which mismatch repair sensitizes cells to drugs like cisplatin and methylating agents.

Associate Professor Stephen Miller
Associate Professor Miller received his PhD in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of California, San Francisco, and served as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School before joining UMass Medical School. His research focuses on biochemistry and drug resistance, specifically the application of synthetic organic chemistry and light to control and probe dynamic cellular processes in live cells. His laboratory has two main objectives: 1) non-invasive optical imaging of the intracellular environment; and 2) spatial and temporal control over protein function. To achieve the first goal, he and his team of researchers work to synthesize small molecules that absorb and/or emit light, including fluorescent and bioluminescent molecules. To achieve the second goal, his lab works to synthesize molecules that can block the activation and interactions of specific proteins when irradiated with light. The photoactivation approach can be used to study rapid processes in living cells using fluorescent microscopy. His research is currently funded by two NIH grants.

Professor Melissa Moore
Professor Moore earned her PhD in Biological Chemistry at MIT, did three MIT postdoctoral fellowships and taught at Brandeis University before coming to UMass Medical School. She currently serves as the Co-Director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute and the Neurotherapeutics Institute at UMMS and as the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair of Cancer Research. She also works as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her research encompasses a broad array of topics involved in post-transcriptional gene regulation in eukaryotes via mechanisms involving RNA. Her current projects focus on three distinct but interconnected areas involving the basic mechanisms of eukaryotic gene expression: (1) the structure and mechanism of the spliceosome, (2) the effects of nuclear-acquired proteins on cytoplasmic messenger RNA (mRNA) metabolism, and (3) the fate of functionally defective ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) and mRNAs. She has received grants from NIH, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Department of Energy, and several private foundations.

Professor Celia Schiffer
Professor Schiffer received her PhD from the University of California, San Francisco and did postdoctoral research at ETH-Zurich and Genenetech. She currently serves as the Director of the UMass Center for Aids Research and the Co-Director of the Institute for Drug Resistance. Her research focuses on structural and evolutionary biology as a basis for understanding drug resistance; specifically, she investigates molecular recognition of biological macromolecules at the atomic level using structural and dynamic analyses combined with functional and biophysical assays. Her recent projects have centered on protease inhibitors which disrupt the HIV virus—examining how the protease recognizes and reacts with the virus, and then how the virus and protease mutate, making the protease inhibitor drug-resistant. The data will support existing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry by studying how these processes work.
Instructor Lutfu Yilmaz
Lutfu Yilmaz was with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before joining UMass Medical School. His research focuses on biochemistry and drug resistance, specifically the development of thermodynamic models for the optimization of fluorescence in situ hybridization.