Biochemists work at the interface between chemistry and biology to understand life at the molecular level. They use this knowledge to develop new biotechnology that increases our quality of life. Our biochemistry research projects include studying the chemistry of vision, understanding the colossal maze of neural networks via light-responsive molecules that can be activated at specific synapses, and investigating cancer therapeutics.
The average human brain has nearly 86 billion neurons. They are interconnected with each other at junctions known as synapses. Each neuron can have easily over a 1000 such synapses. To understand this colossal maze of neural networks, neuroscientists lean on the power of small molecules that turn on specific pathways. The Nesnas lab develops light responsive molecules that can be activated at specific synapses. The molecules, often referred to as caged molecules, are inert (hence the term cage) unless they are released (uncaged) by light. Neuroscientist collaborators use our molecules to help map the complex neural network to better understand elusive neurological diseases.
Details Of Vision
The Nesnas group collaborates with the University of Arizona on the development of vitamin A derivatives (also referred to as retinoids) to help “visualize” the process by which the retina activates neurons enabling our visual perception. The ability to synthesize deuterium enriched labeled retinoids allows our collaborators to track the movement of the light sensitive molecule in the retina (known as retinal) with precision using solid state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) techniques.
The Nesnas group is also collaborating with the Guisbert labs (FIT) to synthesize active HSF1 inhibitors that play a key role in tumor suppression.