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Debra Eckert, Ph.D.

Languages spoken: English

Academic Information

Departments: Biochemistry - Research Associate Professor

Academic Office Information

(801) 585-9512

Emma Eccles Jones Research Building
15 North Medical Drive East, Room: 3280
Salt Lake City, UT 84112


Research Interests

  • Virology
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses
  • Ebola-like Viruses
  • Biophysics
  • Ultracentrifugation
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance

Debra Eckert, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Eckert’s research focuses on the mechanisms of enveloped virus entry with an emphasis on developing D-peptide inhibitors of viral entry through collaboration with Michael Kay, MD, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry.

As the mirror-image of naturally occurring peptides, D-peptides are not degraded by natural proteases, leading to longer in vivo half-life and reduced immunogenicity. The lab’s most advanced D-peptide viral inhibitor, chol-PIE12-trimer, targets a protein on the surface of HIV (gp41) as it initiates viral entry. Chol-PIE12-trimer potently inhibits all clinically relevant HIV strains and possesses an unparalleled barrier to resistance. Preliminary toxicology and pharmacokinetic studies show it is safe and suitable for monthly dosing with depot formulation. Ongoing animal efficacy studies will pave the way for further preclinical and clinical testing. Chol-PIE12-trimer is promising for both prevention and treatment of HIV. Eckert and Kay have extended their D-peptide discovery/design process to additional viral targets of public health concern including Ebola virus and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

An overarching theme of Eckert’s research career has been the application of biophysical techniques to uncover structural and functional roles of key players of the viral life cycle. As the Protein Interactions Core Director for the Structural Biology Center for HIV/HOST Interactions in Trafficking and Assembly (CHEETAH), Eckert executes biophysical studies that help define the roles of host and viral proteins in the HIV-1 life cycle.

Education History

Doctoral Training Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Undergraduate Texas Christian University