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Basic Science Experts and Information for Media

Basic science — also called bench research — provides a foundation of understanding upon which clinical breakthroughs are built. Basic science can be used to uncover the mechanisms behind the functioning of the human body. Once these fundamentals are understood, the findings may be translated into patient care, completing the “bench-to-bedside” journey. Basic science departments and divisions at St. Jude include Cell and Molecular Biology, Chemical Biology, Developmental Neurobiology, Immunology, Genetics, Structural Biology and Tumor Cell Biology.

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Basic Science Experts

  • Aseem Z. Ansari

    Aseem Ansari, PhD, St. Jude Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics chair, continues to broaden the boundaries of discovery as an expert in therapeutics that target transcription factors—proteins that regulate the transcription of genes. His research focuses on building and studying synthetic gene regulators (SynGRs) used as therapeutics for personalized medicine. His other research includes artificial transcription factors (ATFs) to regulate programs that determine cell fate and enable regenerative medicine. He also uses chemical and computational tools to optimize SynGR/ATF design, perform genome annotation to understand the structure and function of a protein or gene within the genome and dissect the RNA polymerase II transcription cycle. His aims to design synthetic molecules that read the genome and engage cellular machinery at targeted sites to resolve disruptions that cause catastrophic disease in children. 

  • Charalampos Kalodimos, PhD

    Charalampos Babis Kalodimos, PhD, St. Jude Department of Structural Biology chair, investigates the structure and dynamics of protein kinases and molecular chaperones. These are some of the most challenging biological systems to study and understand, yet they play central roles in pediatric cancer and other diseases. His research combines high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy with other structural approaches to decipher normal and pathological mechanisms of action. Kalodimos has positioned St. Jude as a world leader in structural biology research, building unparalleled infrastructure such as the first Ascend 1.1 GHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer.

  • Maureen A. McGargill, PhD

    Maureen McGargill, PhD, St. Jude Department of Immunology, has expanded her field’s understanding of immune cell regulation and the delicate balance between autoimmunity and pathogen defense. She studies how the immune system is regulated to improve its response to infections and tumors, while preventing harmful autoimmune reactions against normal, healthy tissues. This research has contributed to an improved understanding of influenza, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and osteochondroma, the most common noncancerous bone growth.

  • Peter J. McKinnon, PhD

    Peter McKinnon, PhD, leads the Center for Pediatric Neurological Disease Research, part of the groundbreaking Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative at St. Jude. He studies the role of the DNA damage response in the nervous system and how it can be used to prevent disease. Mutations in various factors involved in DNA damage response can lead to human diseases characterized by pronounced neuropathology. The nervous system poses a particular challenge regarding clinical intervention; understanding how DNA repair deficiency impacts the nervous system will be important for designing therapies to target neurodegeneration and brain tumors. 

  • Tanja Mittag, PhD

    Tanja Mittag, PhD, St. Jude Department of Structural Biology, is known for her work on phase separation of membrane-less organelles. Also called biomolecular condensates, these structures in cells lack a clear boundary from the surrounding cytoplasm. Membrane-less organelles compartmentalize cells and play roles in ribosome assembly, RNA sequestration upon stress and RNA splicing. Mittag’s work has identified how genetic mutations can influence membrane-less organelles, thus affecting the development of diseases such as cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

  • Anang A. Shelat, PhD

    Anang Shelat, PhD, St. Jude Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics, is an expert in chemical informatics and assay development. His research program uses the tools of chemical informatics, computational biology and chemical biology to investigate the mechanism of drug action and to target disease vulnerabilities. His laboratory group developed invaluable analytical tools for drug screening that have helped shape preclinical therapeutic development. Shelat is also the director of the Lead Discovery Informatics Center, whose mission is to enable a deeper interrogation of biology by integrating chemistry, computation and data science.  

  • J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD

    Executive Vice President J. Paul Taylor, PhD, St. Jude Scientific Director and Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative director, also leads basic research at St. Jude on neurologic disease. His research aims to reduce morbidity and mortality from such diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Taylor has identified genes responsible for ALS and learned how mutations in these genes disrupt the way cells process RNA. He is also an expert on biomolecular condensates and how the processes that govern phase separation are involved in neurologic disease.