In the Biochemistry Department, we are a vigorous group of scientists and trainees dedicated to the expansion and transmission of knowledge about the biological world. Our particular focus is the characterization of macromolecules and biological processes at the molecular level. Research groups in the department address the structure of biological macromolecules, the mechanisms by which they function, and the possible applications to research technology and to medicine.
University of Utah biochemist Danny Chou, Ph.D., is one of four researchers worldwide to receive a grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi US Services Inc. to develop glucose-responsive insulin to help millions of people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) maintain proper blood glucose levels. ... Read More
One of the most fundamental challenges that a cell faces is how to bring membranes that are far apart, close together. New research in Science shows how cellular machinery, called ESCRT (Endosomal Sorting Complexes Required for Transport), accomplishes this essential task. ... Read More
A group of 18 leaders in the field of genomic engineering have written a perspective to be published in the journal Science Express on March 19, cautioning fellow scientists from going down this path too quickly. They call for a moratorium on genetically engineering changes in human DNA that would be passed to future generations. Before this can happen, they say, scientists, clinicians, and the general public must agree on the best ways to ensure the safety and efficacy of the technology. ... Read More
September 2015 saw the arrival of Erhu Cao as a new Assistant Professor of Biochemistry. In his postdoctoral fellowship with David Julius at UCSF, Erhu characterized TRP ion channels, which are key players in sensory signaling. This included collaborating with the laboratory of Yifan Cheng to determine structures at near atomic resolution. This landmark achievement heralded the cryo-EM transformation that is currently sweeping structural biology. Prior to that, Erhu received his bachelor’s degree from the Huazhong Agricultural University in China, followed by his Ph.D. studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the labs of Steven Almo and Stanley Nathenson, where he determined crystal structures of receptors that contribute to cellular immunity, and received the Julius Marmur Research Award.
Erhu’s new lab at Utah is broadly interested in understanding atomic-scale mechanisms of how membrane proteins function under normal and diseased states. Membrane proteins play critical roles in nearly every aspect of physiological processes that encompass relaying signals between cells, transporting small molecules and ions across the membrane and catalyzing vital enzymatic reactions. Importantly, membrane proteins constitute ~60% of targets of currently approved drugs and thus in-depth knowledge about their inner workings is sorely needed to inform the development of effective therapeutic strategies for treating various human diseases.
Erhu’s current research program focuses on the structure and function of receptors, transporters, and ion channels that are implicated in polycystic kidney diseases (PKD), which is a widespread genetic disorder that affects 600,000 Americans and 12.5 million patients worldwide. He also aims to develop pharmacological tools (e.g. small chemical compounds, peptide toxins, and antibodies) to probe the function of ion channels and receptors. Importantly, such molecules may also serve as lead compounds that can potentially evolve into drugs for treating patients with PKD. To achieve these goals, Erhu’s lab employs a multidisciplinary approach that includes molecular biology, protein biochemistry, pharmacology, ion channel electrophysiological, X-ray crystallography, and single particle electron cryo-microscopy.