Dr. Mikaela Stewart
BIOL 40513, Fundamentals of Biochemistry
The atoms in our bodies are put together to form amazing biological molecules! In this class we will explore the structures, properties, and functions of these biological molecules that make life possible. You will evaluate and think critically about how biological molecules are studied and how their properties relate to real-world examples. I have chosen the topics we cover carefully so that more emphasis is placed on areas that frequently appear on professional examinations (e.g. MCAT).
BIOL/CHEM 40523, Structural Biology of Drug Design
In this course we work through real-life scenarios to determine how to use structural biology to develop treatments. You will pick an illness that interests you and use structural biology techniques to design a hypothetical drug to treat it. To achieve this goal we also cover: 1) how to evaluate the quality of published protein structures, 2) how to visualize, analyze, and represent protein structures using computer software, 3) the methods used to study protein structure and design drugs, and 4) strategies for searching, reading, and interpreting primary literature.
My research interests are in understanding the link between protein structure and function. The current focus of my lab is understanding the molecular details of the tumor-suppressor protein, BRCA1, that lead to its protective properties. Even single amino acid changes in BRCA1 can dramatically increase an individual’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. More information about the molecular mechanism of BRCA1 function is needed to better assess the risk associated with new patient mutations being identified regularly. We are addressing this important question using the following two approaches:
- Investigate molecular details in the central region related to BRCA1/BARD1 function. The central region of BRCA1 contains protein-protein interaction sites that are essential for tumor suppression and is the target of important phosphorylation events, but information is lacking on the effect of mutations in this region of BRCA1. My laboratory will characterize the molecular details of protein-protein interactions in this region using biochemistry and biophysics techniques such as NMR, fluorescence, and ITC.
- Functional conservation of BRCA1. The tractable genetics organism, elegans, contains a BRCA1 homolog. Like human BRCA1, the C. elegans homolog also functions in the DNA damage response. This system will provide an excellent model to study which BRCA1 activities are evolutionarily conserved and to determine which residues are important for these activities. We are investigating which properties of C. elegans BRCA1 are conserved in vitro using biochemistry and structural biology techniques. Through collaboration we plan to test our hypotheses developed in vitro, using C. elegans genetics techniques.
Please visit our website and contact me if you are interested in learning more about the research in my lab and how to become an undergraduate or graduate researcher in my lab.