We are pleased to welcome Dr. Gabriel Brandt to the Chemistry Department. Gabriel will join the faculty as a Biochemist starting July 1, 2013 and will begin teaching General Chemistry in the Fall 2013 semester. He will teach Advanced Biochemistry in the Spring 2014 semester.
Why am I excited to be at F&M? Let me tell you about my first encounter with Franklin and Marshall. This was in eastern Mali in the early '90's. The sun had just gone down, and I was stranded at some general store/gas station/pharmacy on the road to Koutiala, watching the moon come up, drinking tea with the proprietor. He turns to me and says, 'Your sisters have arrived.' Since I don't really speak French, I figured I had badly misheard. Looking up the road, though, I do see a taxi sidle up out of the darkness. Sure enough, a white woman emerges, looking like you do when you spend four hours on marginally paved roads in a Peugeot 504 with ten other people. Fair enough. The next person to appear looks to have teleported in from a Gap advertisement, every shevel fully accounted for, glowing white T-shirt reading 'Franklin & Marshall College' in the moonlight. So, I've known for a long time that dust doesn't even stick to F&M students.
I'm very glad to be in the chemistry department. It has a great mix of personalities, styles and research interests. I've been really impressed at how everyone comes together to create a unified department with an unmistakable focus on student development. I'm looking forward to helping spread the love of chemistry and pushing my research forward. As a biochemist, I'm also excited to be part of the strong connection that Chemistry has with other departments on campus.
My lab is generally interested in the atomic and molecular scale of natural processes. Specifically, we'll start out with two projects. The first has to do with understanding the virulence mechanism of the malaria parasite P. falciparum. In the second project, we'll try to develop chemical tools for using light to control biochemical processes as they occur in cells in real time. If you think you might be interested in the work our lab is planning, please feel free to e-mail me: gbrandt_at_jhsph.edu.
1. Molecular mechanisms of virulence in P. falciparum
Globally, most malaria infections are caused by P. vivax, but most deaths result from infection by P. falciparum. Malaria parasites remain within a patient's circulating red blood cells for up to 48 hours, undergoing several cycles of asexual reproduction. The virulence of P. falciparum is thought to be related to its ability to alter the red blood cell surface during this process. These infected erythrocytes adhere to the walls of blood vessels, potentially leading to life-threatening symptoms. We'd like to know more about how the parasite remodels the surface of its host cell. A very large number of P. falciparum proteins are exported into the red blood cell. One family comprises 20 Ser/Thr protein kinases, enzymes that can modify other proteins in a cell. Our goal is to study the biochemistry of the members of this family.
2. Controlling biochemical processes with light
Modern biochemistry is increasingly focused on trying to do experiments in a cell rather than a test tube. I'm interested in developing chemical tools that can ultimately be used inside cells. These will be small molecules, like pharmaceuticals, that are themselves dynamic. One way to exert control over a molecule inside a cell is by using light. Although some wavelengths of light can penetrate surprisingly far into an organism, this technique is designed to work in experimental cell cultures, which are essentially transparent. Our goal is to design, synthesize and test photoactive molecules. We'll start out with compounds based on known inhibitors of a well-studied protein kinase called Src. One version of a dynamic Src inhibitor will acquire the ability to block the enzyme only after being irradiated with light. Another version will block the enzyme, but then disintegrate when hit by photons. Using what we learn from these proof-of-principle experiments, we hope to create molecules that can be used to turn biochemical pathways on or off in cultured cells.