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Pierce to use $300K NSF grant to examine vital enzymes
     
The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to a UT Arlington biochemist working to unravel the mystery of how enzymes regulate the human body.

Brad Pierce, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is studying a new class of enzymes that are catalysts for the oxidation, or breaking down, of sulfur-bearing molecules in the body.

Enzymes involved in sulfur-oxidation are increasingly being recognized as potential drug targets for development of antimicrobials and therapies for cancer and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. "Ironically, while sulfur is considered one of the six primordial elements necessary for life to exist, enzymes involved in sulfur metabolism remain poorly understood." said Pierce.

Imbalance in the metabolites of sulfur-bearing molecules can be used as biomarkers for patients suffering from neurological disorders such as autism, Alzheimer's disease and Down syndrome. Therefore, a greater understanding of how sulfur-oxidizing enzymes function may advance research into those conditions.

"The first crystal structure for an enzyme of this class was published six years ago and since then, a number of groups have been attempting to figure out how it works," said Pierce, who joined the UT Arlington College of Science in 2008. "There is so much we don't know about how these enzymes function and are regulated so efficiently in the body. That's a lot of what biochemistry is
 
Pierce
trying to understand how enzymes work at a molecular level, and then using that knowledge to develop strategies to benefit human health."

Pierce specializes in the use of both electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and optical spectroscopy to probe the active sites of metalloenzymes. His work gives both undergraduate and graduate students at UT Arlington an opportunity to use the latest technology and work at the forefront of basic research relevant to understanding enzyme mechanisms.

The National Science Foundation grant will also support Pierce's ongoing efforts to expand scientific research opportunities for local high school students in North Texas. This summer, two high school students from North Texas were selected for summer research internships in his lab.

"Dr. Pierce is has established a very productive research laboratory at UT Arlington," said Rasika Dias, chairman of the UT Arlington Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "I am very pleased to see that NSF recognized the importance of his work through a generous grant."

Posted August 29, 2012
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