(June 24, 2021) Two Department of Chemistry faculty members were awarded grants from the College of Science’s Dean’s Discovery Fund. The fund, now in its fifth year, was established to provide support for innovative ideas and research and has since funded over $510,000 in research and education programs. In those five years, a total of seven Department of Chemistry faculty members have received awards, with Profs. Jim Tanko and Valerie Welborn receiving awards in the 2021 cohort.

Professor Jim Tanko received a $10,000 award to research the mechanism of monoamine oxidase-A and -B (MAO-A and MAO-B). These important enzymes are found in most mammalian tissues and play important roles in the metabolism of dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin. MAO has been linked to depression, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, and significant resources have therefore been directed to the development of MAO inhibitors. However, seemingly subtle chemical structure changes can either lead to a desired therapeutic effect or significant biological consequence. In an effort to better understand the behavior of these compounds, Tanko and his group will use biomimetic systems to study the mechanism of enzyme catalysis.

Assistant professor Valerie Welborn received $9,500 to research the molecular basis of pain disorders. According to the CDC, 50 million American suffer from chronic pain, with 19.6 million suffering from pain so severe it interferes with daily life. While there are many over-the-counter drugs for pain relief, they are often inadequate or insufficient because they fail to target the cause of the disorder at the molecular level. Pain takes root in neurological signaling, which is governed by specific types of ion channels. Welborn and her group will use a unique computational approach, revolving around the calculation of electric fields, to understand how these channels function at the atomistic scale and elucidate the molecular basis of pain disorders.