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Honoring a Career in Chemistry
CHORI Scientist Honored at American Chemistry Society Fall Meeting

"I'm really happy about the work I'm doing, and the work I've done, and I'm thrilled that it is being recognized in this way, and excited about what's going to come next."

The American Chemistry Society (ACS) is the largest scientific organization in the world, and their biannual meetings provide a unique opportunity for the translation of basic research to the clinical world by bringing together chemists from industry and academia to interact and exchange ideas. This August, the Inorganic chemistry Division of ACS will be hosting a special symposium entitled “Metals in Biochemistry” in order to honor the seminal research of CHORI Senior Scientist, Elizabeth Theil, PhD, who received the Garvan-Olin Medal Award from the ACS earlier this year.

A pioneer in the field of ferritin research - a molecule for the storage and controlled release of iron to the body - Dr. Theil's lab was the first to identify ferritin's key structural element, gated pores. In addition, Dr. Theil has provided critical insights into the catalytic activity of ferrtin with iron and oxygen that produces the ferritin mineral, as well as the flexibility of what Dr. Theil has coined the ferritin nanocage. She also discovered novel peptides that can be used to control the opening and closing of the gated pores and can be the basis for novel iron chelation therapies.

Dr. Theil's lab also studies ferritin genes and, with her colleagues at the University of Illinois-Chicago, produced the first crystal structure of the mRNA/ regulatory protein complex, which is responsible for regulating iron transport and ferritin synthesis. The breakthrough sets the stage for the both new ferritin research as well as broader research into the use of the three dimensional structure of mRNA in general as a potential drug target.

"Now we know there are two genetic targets in drug development - in addition to DNA, RNA can also be regulated and targeted," explains Dr. Theil. "The RNA genetic target in ferritin is more sensitive to iron signalling and the DNA genetic target is more sensitive to oxygen signaling."

These recent advances Dr. Theil has made, have contributed leading observations to the field, but the ACS accolades also relate to the cumulative efforts of Dr. Theil's work over the span of her career.
"While we've found some pretty exciting things recently, I've worked on the general problem from a very broad point of view for a long time, and it's when everything comes together that we can see the sum of it all."
For her presentation, Dr. Theil will discuss for the first time a very large feedback loop that involves the DNA that encodes for ferritin, the mRNA that synthesizes the protein, and then the protein activity itself.

"It's these very basic elements, iron and oxygen and their derivatives that are controlling all three levels of biology - the gene, the mRNA and the protein," says Dr. Theil.

Dr. Theil will be among a diverse group of leading researchers from U.S. institutions such as Caltech, MIT, Stanford, and UCLA, as well as from the University of Florence, who will present for the symposium.

"Speakers will be coming from all over whose work relates to metals in biochemistry and who are doing really wonderful things in research and drug development in our field," says Dr. Theil. "I don't think there has ever before been a symposium with so many talks about ferritin. It's going to be very exciting."

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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