Our lab develops new chemistry, and chemical agents as biological probes and drug discovery candidates. Current interests include the discovery of unconventional opioid agents, anti-tuberculosis drugs, and basic biochemistry of androgen biosynthesis inhibitors.
In my lab, we are exploring the roles that kinases play in neurodegeneration through the creation of high-quality, small molecule tools. Our team designs, synthesizes, and evaluates small molecules capable of kinase modulation, sometimes targeting kinase inhibition and sometimes kinase activation. In order to accomplish our aims, we work closely with X-ray crystallographers within the larger SGC and with biologists, including experts in using stem cells to model neurodegenerative diseases. We seek enthusiastic students with an interest in neuroscience who are willing to learn and apply techniques that span chemistry and biology to better understand and address neurodegeneration.
Research in the Bowers lab focuses on investigation of structure activity relationships and mechanisms of action of natural product-derived small molecule therapeutics. We employ a variety of methods to build and modify compounds of interest, including manipulation of natural product biosynthesis, chemical synthesis, and semi-synthesis. One major area of research in the lab is the rationale engineering of biosynthetic pathways to make bacterial drug factories. Compounds targeting transcriptional regulation of cancer as well as multi-drug resistant venereal infections are currently under investigation in the lab.
The UNC Food Allergy Institute (UNCFAI) was established in 2012 to address the growing needs of children and adults with food allergy. Program investigators study the biologic basis of food allergy in the laboratory and in clinical research studies seeking to better understand the role of allergen-specific IgE and the mechanism of allergen immunotherapy. The Institute provides comprehensive, family-centered patient care for food allergy, food-related anaphylaxis, and other related disorders like atopic dermatitis and eosinophilic esophagitis.
The Button lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics is part of the Marsico Lung Institute. Our lab is actively involved in projects that are designed to define the pathogenesis of muco-obstructive pulmonary disorders and to identify therapies that could be used to improve the quality of life in persons afflicted by these diseases. In particular, our research works to understand the biochemical and biophysical properties of mucin biopolymers, which give airway mucus its characteristic gel-like properties, and how they are altered in diseases such as Asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis.
Our laboratory now studies mechanisms of genome replication and pathogenesis of respiratory enteroviruses and evolution of neurovirulence using the tools of mechanistic enzymology, cell biology, stem-cell engineering, and virology. Our laboratory is also pioneering the development of tools to monitor viral infection dynamics on the single-cell level, aka “single-cell virology.”
My research aims to uncover the molecular aspects of protein aggregation diseases (also called PAD) which include neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), myofibrillar myopathies (such as muscular dystrophies), as well as the formation of age-related cataracts. Although very distinct, these disorders share a common underlying pathogenic mechanism. Using a combination of biochemistry and in vitro approaches, cell biology, and primary cells / transgenic mouse models, we will investigate the post-translational modifications (PTMs) that drive these disease processes. Ultimately, this research will provide a platform for future drug discovery efforts against these devastating diseases.
The overriding goal of Dr. Coleman’s work is to identify novel treatments for alcohol use disorders (AUD) and associated peripheral disease pathologies. Currently, this includes: the role of neuroimmune Signaling in AUD pathology, the role of alcohol-associated immune dysfunction in associated disease states, and novel molecular and subcellular mediators of immune dysfunction such as extracellular vesicles, and regenerative medicine approaches such as microglial repopulation.
My lab is focused on the improvement of treatment of chronic bacterial infections. We aim to determine the mechanisms of antibiotic tolerance. Our aim is to understand the physiology of the bacterial cell, primarily Staphylococcus aureus, during infection and how this physiology allows the cell to survive lethal doses of antibiotic. We will use advanced methods such as single cell analysis and Tn-seq to determine the factors that facilitate survival in the antibiotic’s presence. Once we understand this tolerance, we will develop advanced screens to identify novel compounds that can be developed into therapeutics that can kill these drug tolerant “persister” cells and eradicate deep-seated infections.
Research in the Darville lab is focused on increasing our understanding of immune signaling pathways active in development of genital tract disease due to Chlamydia trachomatis and determination of chlamydial antigen-specific T cell responses that lead to protection from infection and disease. In vitro, murine model, and human studies are being performed with the ultimate goal to develop a vaccine against this prevalent sexually transmitted bacterial pathogen. Genetic and transcriptional microarray studies are being performed to explore pathogenic mechanisms and determine biomarkers of pelvic inflammatory disease due to Chlamydia as well as other sexually transmitted pathogens.
The Drewry lab is focused on designing, synthesizing, evaluating, and sharing small molecule chemical probes for protein kinases. These tools are used to build a deeper understanding of disease pathways and facilitate identification of important targets for drug discovery. Through wide ranging partnerships with academic and industrial groups, the Drewry lab is building a Kinase Chemogenomic Set (KCGS) that is available to the community for screening.
The broad aim of research in the Fenton Laboratory is to develop and evaluate synthetic drug delivery platforms to treat neurodegenerative disorders in the brain using RNA therapeutics. RNA therapeutics represent a particularly promising class of therapeutics for neurodegenerative management given their ability to tune levels of specific protein expression in living systems. For example, protein downregulation can be achieved by administering short interfering RNAs (siRNAs); alternatively, proteins can be upregulated by messenger RNA (mRNA) administration. Despite this promise, fewer than 0.05% of the world’s clinically approved drugs are RNA therapeutics, and their translation to neurodegenerative disorders in the brain warrants further study at the fundamental and clinical levels.
To address these challenges, our group focuses on the discovery and development of molecular carriers and technology platforms to improve the targeting, safety, and efficacy of RNA drugs within target cells. Specifically, our group leverages an interdisciplinary approach to develop lipid nanoparticles (LNP) as well as soft matter hydrogel platforms that can serve as carrier systems and/or drug delivery models for RNA drugs. Further, our group also explores the development of technological platforms to further expand the potential of RNA drugs within resource limited settings. Lastly, given that mRNA drugs can be engineered to encode for virtually any polypeptide or protein based antigen, our group also aims to leverage our platformable LNP technologies for the study and prevention of cancers and infectious disease. In undertaking such an approach, the goal of our research is to equip students with fundamental skillsets for the development of next generation drugs while simultaneously developing clinically-relevant carrier platforms and technologies for the study, prevention, and treatment of human disease.
We are inspired by the diversity and complexity found in natural products and use their architecture as both a platform for developing chemical methods and as scaffolds for new molecular tools in chemical biology. We have employed our chemical synthesis skill set to solve emerging challenges facing modern medicine. This has led to ongoing collaborative projects in metastatic cancer, hepatitis C antivirals, dopamine signaling and sigma receptor ligands. Of particular interest is the development of next generation anti-metastasis agents to our recent phase I clinical candidate, metarrestin.
My lab focuses on developing bioinspired molecular constructs and material platforms that can mimic proteins and be programmed to respond to stimuli resulting from biomolecular recognition. Major efforts are directed to design peptide- and nucleic acid-based scaffolds or injectable nanostructures to create artificial extracellular matrices that can directly signal cells.
The Hathaway lab is focused on understanding the biological events responsible for dynamically regulating the selective expression of the mammalian genome. In multicellular organisms, genes must be regulated with high precision during stem cell differentiation to achieve normal development. Pathologically, the loss of proper gene regulation caused by defects in chromatin regulatory enzymes has been found to be a driving force in cancer initiation and progression. My lab uses a combination of chemical biology and cell biology approaches to unravel the molecular mechanisms that govern gene expression. We utilize new tools wielding an unprecedented level of temporal control to visualize changes in chromatin structure and function in mammalian cells and animal models. In addition, we seek to identify small molecule inhibitors that are selective for chromatin regulatory enzymes with the potential for future human therapeutics.
We are interested in modulating the activity of chromatin reader proteins with small-molecule ligands, specifically potent and selective chemical probes, in order to open new avenues of research in the field of epigenetics. Our work has pioneered the biochemical assays and medicinal chemistry strategies for high quality probe development for methyl-lysine (Kme) reader proteins, as well as the means by which to evaluate probe selectivity, mechanism of action, and cellular activity. Using a variety of approaches, we utilize such chemical tools to improve our understanding of their molecular targets and the broader biological consequences of modulating these targets in cells. We are also interested in developing novel methods and screening platforms to discover hit compounds to accelerate Kme reader probe discovery, such as affinity-based combinatorial strategies, as well as innovative techniques utilizing our developed antagonists to more fully understand the dynamic nature of chromatin regulation.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is effective in suppressing HIV-1 replication in the periphery, however, it fails to eradicate HIV-1 reservoirs in patients. The main barrier for HIV cure is the latent HIV-1, hiding inside the immune cells where no or very low level of viral particles are made. This prevents our immune system to recognize the latent reservoirs to clear the infection. The main goal of my laboratory is to discover the molecular mechanisms how HIV-1 achieves its latent state and to translate our understanding of HIV latency into therapeutic intervention.
Several research programs are undertaking in my lab with a focus of epigenetic regulation of HIV latency, including molecular mechanisms of HIV replication and latency establishment, host-virus interaction, innate immune response to viral infection, and the role of microbiome in the gut health. Extensive in vitro HIV latency models, ex vivo patient latency models, and in vivo patient and rhesus macaque models of AIDS are carried out in my lab. Multiple tools are applied in our studies, including RNA-seq, proteomics, metabolomics, highly sensitive digital droplet PCR and tissue RNA/DNAscope, digital ELISA, and modern and traditional molecular biological and biochemical techniques. We are also very interested in how non-CD4 expression cells in the Central Nervous System (CNS) get infected by HIV-1, how the unique interaction among HIV-1, immune cells, vascular cells, and neuron cells contributes to the initial seeding of latent reservoirs in the CNS, and whether we can target the unique viral infection and latency signaling pathways to attack HIV reservoirs in CNS for a cure/remission of HIV-1 and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). We have developed multiple tools to attack HIV latency, including latency reversal agents for “Shock and Kill” strategy, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors and ingenol family compounds of protein kinase C agonists, and latency enforcing agents for deep silencing of latent HIV-1. Several clinical and pre-clinical studies are being tested to evaluate their potential to eradicate latent HIV reservoirs in vivo. We are actively recruiting postdocs, visiting scholars, and technicians. Rotation graduate students and undergraduate students are welcome to join my lab, located in the UNC HIV Cure Center, for these exciting HIV cure research projects.
My research has focused on developing new radio-chemistry, imaging probes, and therapeutic approaches including nanomedicine for various diseases. Most importantly, we have the culture of forming an active collaboration with people in different field. With a cGMP lab located within our facility, we are also experienced on developing lead agents and translate it to clinic.
If you are interested in developing new biochemical/molecular techniques/tools to advance our understanding of biology, and if you are interested in signal transduction pathway analyses and identification of cancer biomarkers, our research group may help you to achieve your goals, as we have the same dreams. We are especially interested in deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying aberrant signaling events that contribute to tumorigenesis, mediated through protein modifications and protein-protein interactions. Understanding these events may lead to identification of novel drug targets and provide new treatment strategies to combat human cancer.
Our laboratory is interested in innate immune responses during injury to the central nervous system and during inflammation during microbial infections. Our laboratory has a special interest in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus. We also are pursuing drug discovery projects targeting receptors that may modulate demyelinating disease and immune responses. We use molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches both in vitro and in vivo to identify the function of key mediators during pathogenesis.
Cell Biology & Physiology
We focus on the translational potential and clinical impact of biomedical research. Our general research interest is to reveal the mechanisms of eye diseases using animal and other research models. One current project is to investigate the markers of limbal stem cells using transgenic mice. The lack of limbal stem cell marker has been a long-term bottleneck in the diagnosis and treatment of limbal stem cell deficiency, which leads to a loss of corneal epithelial integrity and damaged limbal barrier functions with the symptoms of persistent corneal epithelial defects, pain, and blurred vision. The research results will directly impact on the early-stage diagnosis of the disease and the quality control of ex vivo expanded limbal stem cells for transplantation.
We are a comprehensive, collaborative group with a primary focus on lead and early drug discovery for oncology and epigenetic targets and pathways. Our research applies reagent production, primary assay development, high-throughput screening, biophysics, and exploratory cell biology to enable small molecule drug discovery programs in solid partnership with collaborators, both within the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery and across the UNC campus. We apply small molecule hit discovery to highly validated biochemical targets as well as phenotypic cell-based assays. Our methods include various fluorescence-based readouts and high content microscopy. Examples of some of our collaborative small molecule discovery programs include, inhibition of chromatin methyl-lysine reader proteins, hit discovery for small GTPases such as K-Ras and Gaq, inhibitors of inositol phosphate kinases, inhibitors of protein-protein interactions involving CIB1 and MAGE proteins, and several cell-based efforts including a screen for compounds that enhance c-Myc degradation in pancreatic cancer cells. In addition, we are developing a DNA-encoded library approach for hit discovery to complement traditional high-throughput screening. Our ultimate goal is discovery of new chemical probes and medicines for exploratory biology and unmet medical needs, respectively.
My laboratory research is focused on basic cell biology questions as they apply to clinical lung disease problems. Our main work recently has been contributing to the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundtation Stem Cell Consortium, with a focus on developing cell and gene editing therapies for CF. I contribute to UNC team science efforts on cystic fibrosis, aerodigestive cancers, emerging infectious diseases and inhalation toxicology hazards. I direct a highly respected tissue procurement and cell culture Core providing primary human lung cells and other resources locally, nationally and internationally. I co-direct the Respiratory Block in the UNC Translational Educational Curriculum for medical students and also teach in several graduate level courses.
Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology, Oral & Craniofacial Biomedicine, Pathobiology & Translational Science, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmacology
Bacteriology, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Biophysics, Cancer Biology, Chemical Biology, Computational Biology, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Metabolism, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Molecular Medicine, Pharmacology, Plant Biology, Structural Biology, Systems Biology, Toxicology
We are interested in unraveling the molecular basis for human disease and discover new treatments focused on human and microbial targets. Our work extends from atomic-level studies using structural biology, through chemical biology efforts to identify new drugs, and into cellular, animal and clinical investigations. While we are currently focused on the gut microbiome, past work has examined how drugs are detected and degraded in humans, proteins designed to protect soldiers from chemical weapons, how antibiotic resistance spreads, and novel approaches to treat bacterial infections. The Redinbo Laboratory actively works to increase equity and inclusion in our lab, in science, and in the world. Our lab is centered around collaboration, open communication, and trust. We welcome and support anyone regardless of race, disability, gender identification, sexual orientation, age, financial background, or religion. We aim to: 1) Provide an inclusive, equitable, and encouraging work environment 2) Actively broaden representation in STEM to correct historical opportunity imbalances 3) Respect and support each individual’s needs, decisions, and career goals 4) Celebrate our differences and use them to discover new ways of thinking and to better our science and our community
Dr. Sheahan is an expert virologist with a primary appointment in the Department of Epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and a secondary appointment in Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine. His research is focused on understanding emerging viral diseases and developing new means to stop them with a current focus on coronavirus and hepacivirus.
The Singleton Laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular basis for the develoment and transmission of microbial drug resistance and the discovery and exploitation of new strategies for controlling drug-resistant microorganisms. We develop and adapt synthetic chemistry and synthetic biology methods to provide new molecular tools — both biologically active small molecules and innovative platforms — for hypothesis-driven biological research and pharmaceutical discovery. These foundations of our program offers both chemically-oriented and biologically-oriented researchers new opportunities for the development of integrated, multi-disciplinary knowledge and technologies.
Local mRNA translation is critical for axon regeneration, synapse formation, and synaptic plasticity. While much of research has focused on local translation in dendrites and in peripheral axons, less is known about local translation in smaller diameter central axons due to the technical difficulty of accessing them. We developed microfluidic technology to allow access to axons, as well as nascent boutons and fully functional boutons. We identified multiple transcripts that are targeted to cortical and hippocampal axons in rat (Taylor et al. J Neurosci 2009). Importantly, this work countered the prevailing view that local mRNA translation does not occur in mature axons. We are actively investigating transcripts in axons that may play a role in establishing proper synaptic connections. We are also using our technology to identify transcripts targeted to axons and boutons in human neurons. These studies are a critical step towards the identification of key genes and signaling molecules during synapse development, axonal regeneration, and proper circuit function.
One of the most amazing discoveries of recent years has been the profound role of RNA in regulating all areas of biology. Further, the functions of many RNA molecules require that an RNA fold back on itself to create intricately and complexly folded structures. Until recently, however, we had little idea of the broad contributions of RNA structure and function because there simply did not exist rigorous methods for understanding RNA molecules in cells and viruses. The vision of our laboratory is therefore, first, to invent novel chemical microscopes that reveal quantitative structure and function interrelationships for RNA and, second, to apply these RNA technologies to broadly important problems in biology. Mentoring and research in the lab are highly interdisciplinary. Students learn to integrate ideas and concepts spanning chemical and computational biology, and technology development, and extending to practical applications in virology, understanding biological processes in cells, and discovery of small molecule ligands targeted against medically important RNAs. Each student has a distinct project which they drive to an impactful conclusion, but do so as part of the lab team which, collectively, has shown an amazing ability to solve big problems in RNA biology. The overarching goal of mentoring in the lab is to prepare students for long-term leadership roles in science.
Pathobiology & Translational Science
The overall objective of our research is to understand the connection between structure of protein-DNA complexes, protein dynamics and function. We currently focus on the methyl-cytosine binding domain (MBD) family of DNA binding proteins. The MBD proteins selectively recognize methylated CpG dinucleotides and regulate gene expression critical for both normal development and carcinogenesis. We use a combination of NMR spectroscopy and biophysical analyses to study protein-DNA and protein-protein complexes involving the MBD proteins. Building on these studies, we are developing inhibitors of complex formation as potential molecular therapeutics for b-hemoglobinopathies and cancer.
A unifying goal of my research is the use of chemistry as a tool to illuminate human biology. For over two decades I have led programs to develop potent cell active chemical probes to identify and study the biological function of their target proteins. Starting in 1992 with the orphan nuclear receptors, my lab developed chemical probes to uncover the roles of PPAR, PPAR, LXR, FXR, CAR, and PXR in human physiology. The release of our chemical probes into the public domain supported research across the global scientific community and resulted in multiple drug candidates to treat diseases of human metabolism entering clinical development. I am co-discoverer of the FXR agonist obeticholic acid, which was approved by the FDA in 2016 as a drug for the treatment of Primary Biliary Cholangitis.
In 2007, I started a collaboration with the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) to discover chemical probes for the enzymes and reader domains involved in epigenetic regulation. Together, we built a consortium with support from public funders and eight pharmaceutical companies that has released over 40 high quality chemical probes into the public domain. We demonstrated that the bromodomain family of acetyl lysine reader domains were highly tractable targets for drug discovery, which led to the development of BRD4 inhibitors for the treatment of various rare cancers.
In 2015, I established the first US site of the SGC at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to expand the footprint of open science in US academia. I have assembled a team at SGC-UNC to create chemical tools for understudied (‘dark’) kinases, identify inhibitors of molecular targets that cause rare diseases, and develop chemical probes for proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases. With support from the NIH Illuminating the Druggable Genome program we assembled a Kinase Chemogenomic Set (KCGS): the largest, highly annotated and publicly available collection of small molecule kinase inhibitors. We used KCGS to identify kinases whose inhibition prevents replication of coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. Medicinal chemists at the SGC-UNC are also developing chemical probes within the Med Chem Core of the NIA Target Enablement to Accelerate Therapy Development for Alzheimer’s Disease (TREAT-AD) program at UNC.
We are a translational cancer research lab. The overall goal of our research is to find therapeutic targets and biomarkers for patients with pancreatic cancer and to translate our results to the clinic. In order to accomplish this, we analyze patient tumors using a combination of genomics and proteomics to study the patient tumor and tumor microenvironment, identify and validate targets using forward and reverse genetic approaches in both patient-derived cell lines and mouse models. At the same time, we evaluate novel therapeutics for promising targets in mouse models in order to better predict clinical response in humans.
Our laboratory is focusing on developing and applying solution-state NMR methods, together with computational and biochemical approaches, to understand the molecular basis of nucleic acid functions that range from enzymatic catalysis to gene regulation. In particular, we aim to visualize, with atomic resolution, the entire dynamic processes of ribozyme catalysis, riboswitch-based gene regulation, and co-transciptional folding of mRNA. The principles deduced from these studies will provide atomic basis for rational manipulation of RNA catalysis and folding, and for de novo design of small molecules that target specific RNA signals. Research program in the laboratory provides diverse training opportunities in areas of spectroscopy, biophysics, structural biology, computational modeling, and biochemistry.