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Chemistry Projects

Generation and Characterization of Lysyl Oxidase Mutants

Dr. Karlo Lopez

Lysyl oxidase is a copper-dependent enzyme that catalyzes the final crosslinking step in collagen and elastin.  As a result, this enzyme plays key biological roles in connective tissues and has recently been implicated as playing a dual and paradoxical role in cancer.  Very little is known about the structure of this enzyme and as a result there is great interest in studying it. The goal of this year’s REVS-UP project is to use the central dogma of biochemistry (DNA makes RNA makes protein) to generate lysyl oxidase mutants (enzymes with reactive amino acids changed to unreactive amino acids) and to test if these amino acids are required for proper enzymatic function.  Students will learn how to handle and manipulate DNA, protein, and bacteria.  Students will also be introduced to separation and analytical instrumentation and techniques.

Synthesis of Small Molecule Inhibitors of Lysyl Oxidase

Dr. Dani Solano

Lysyl oxidase (LOX) is an enzyme that is believed to play a role in cancer metastasis, or the spread of cancer to a new part of the body. Thus metastatic tumors can be treated, or even prevented if a method for decreasing the activity of the LOX enzyme can be developed. The goal of this project is to design and prepare several molecules that have the capability of inhibiting LOX. Once these new molecules have been made, they will be submitted to collaborators for testing against the LOX enzyme. This project is particularly suited for students interested in learning about synthetic organic chemistry and drug discovery.

Anti-cancer activity of fruit anthocyanins in combination with entacapone

Dr. Sarah Forester

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States for both men and women.  Consumption of a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables, may help prevent this disease.  Anthocyanins are a class of polyphenols that contribute to the color of foods such as strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.  These compounds have been shown to reduce the incidence of colon cancer, yet they are heavily metabolized in the body, limiting their anti-cancer activities.  Specifically, anthocyanins are methylated by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), transforming them into less bioactive compounds.  COMT activity can be inhibited by a drug called entacapone.  This drug is used to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease patients, yet it could also be used to improve the anti-cancer effects of food-derived anthocyanins.  In this project, we will study the effects of anthocyanin/entacapone combinations on specific cellular proteins that are involved in human cancer cell death and survival.  The techniques used will be mainly mammalian cell culture and western blotting.  Using these techniques, specific proteins in cancer cells can be detected and quantified.  This research may lead to new ways to treat and prevent colon cancer.