Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Biochemistry

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is an established basic science department that plays a major role in the research and education missions of Thomas Jefferson University. The overall goal of the Department is to make basic and translational discoveries that impact our understanding of the biological sciences and human health and to train the researchers, educators and health care professionals of the future.

The Department’s research programs cover a diverse range of areas from cell signaling, transcription and programmed cell death to understanding diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration and AIDS. Areas of particular strength include cell signaling and receptor biology, protein trafficking, DNA replication and repair, transcription and translation, protein and nucleic acid structure and function, and mechanisms involved in disease. The Department also coordinates several major areas of education including the Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology PhD program in the Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences and the training of first-year medical students in the Sidney Kimmel Medical College and first-year pharmacy students in the Jefferson College of Pharmacy.  


Recent Departmental Highlights

Anna Pluciennik, PhD, was awarded a grant from the Hereditary Disease Foundation for her project: "Crosstalk between DNA repair pathways in Huntington's disease."

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of a CAG repeat tract within the huntingtin gene. The CAG repeat is highly unstable, both intergenerationally and in somatic cells. A growing body of evidence suggests the existence of genetic modifiers of age at onset of the disease. Interestingly, several of these modifiers are genes that encode proteins involved in DNA interstrand crosslink repair and DNA mismatch repair. However, the molecular function of these proteins in somatic expansion of CAG repeats is uncertain; moreover, although these two pathways seemingly have opposing effects on repeat instability, the mechanisms underlying such crosstalk is not understood. Therefore, we propose to isolate and characterize protein assemblies in mouse striatal cells that recognize and process CAG extrusions (the DNA structures that underlie repeat instability). We will also characterize the cell type specific protein assemblies that recognize and process CAG extrusions in human patient iPSC-derived neurons. Modulation of such factors may eventually represent viable therapeutic strategies for the treatment of HD.

Yohei Kirino, PhD, was recently promoted to Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

 

Peter Ronner, PhD, received the Sidney Kimmel Medical College Faculty Team Achievement Award. This award is given annually and “recognizes the collaborative work of faculty teams leading to innovations or other achievements in clinical care, education, or research.”

Michael Root, MD, PhD, received the Sidney Kimmel Medical College Dean’s Award for Excellence in Education. This award is presented to faculty who “demonstrate superior effectiveness as teacher and devote significant time/effort to teaching over a sustained period of time, and/or faculty who demonstrate major contributions to an educational course, clerkship or program of training.”

Dr. Root also received the 2018 Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) Director’s Award for Achievement in Mentoring.  Jeffrey L. Benovic, PhD, Thomas Eakins Endowed Professor in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and SKCC’s Associate Director of Education, presented the award to Dr. Root at the 2018 SKCC Member Retreat held at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Jeffrey L. Benovic, PhD, received the Discovery of the Year Award for Basic Science. The award was presented by Andrew Aplin, PhD, Associate Director of Basic Research at SKCC, at the 2018 SKCC Member Retreat held at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Dr. Benovic and his laboratory have been researching on the mechanisms that regulate G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling, with a particular focus on the role of GPCR kinases (GRKs) and arrestins.  “Because GRKs play a central role in regulating GPCR function, a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in this process provides an opportunity to manipulate this pathway in treating various diseases,” Benovic said.

Gino Cingolani, PhD, received the 2018 Rieders Faculty Prize in Graduate Education. This annual award recognizes outstanding performance by a Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences faculty member engaged in the education of graduate students at the doctoral or masters level including lecturing in didactic courses, research training in the laboratory setting, or other aspects of student membership.

Dr. Mazo received the Michael and Melina Pellini Award for Innovation in the Biomedical Sciences. This award is given annually to a SKMC faculty member in recognition of exceptional research accomplishments that have “led to new concepts or approaches to experimentation or patient care.” Dr. Mazo’s award broadly recognizes his contributions to the field of epigenetics and is specifically for elucidating mechanisms that connect replication of the genome to gene expression.

Dr. Kirino received the SKMC Early Career Investigator Award for Distinguished Achievement in Biomedical Research. This award is given annually to a faculty member for outstanding research carried out “in basic and/or clinical/translational research within the first ten years of his/her initial faculty appointment.” Dr. Kirino’s award is for elucidating molecular mechanisms used by small regulatory RNAs to control cellular processes.

Dr. Ronner received the SKMC Career Educator Award. This award is given annually in recognition of “outstanding contributions to education in academic medicine both within his/her institution and to education in his/her field over a career.” Dr. Ronner also received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Education. This award is for faculty who “demonstrate superior effectiveness as a teacher, devote significant time/effort to teaching over a sustained period of time, or for faculty who demonstrate major contributions to an educational course, clerkship or program of training.”