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(Credit: Dr. Wenshe R. Liu.)

COLLEGE STATION --

Texas A&M University chemist Dr. Wenshe R. Liu has been selected to receive one of 60 new grants announced earlier this month by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Liu, a member of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry since 2007 and holder of the Emile and Marta Schweikert Professorship in Chemistry since 2014, received a $200,000 High Impact High Risk (HIHR) award for his proposal, "The Preparation of Novel Phage-Displayed Macrocyclic Peptide Libraries for the Identification of Anticancer Agents." His was one of 19 grants totaling nearly $3.8 million in the HIHR category, which funds projects expected to contribute major new insights and ideas into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancers.

For the past decade, Liu's chemical biology-based research group has focused on using organic chemistry tools to better understand biological systems. Specifically, they have developed or perfected genetic code expansion techniques to enable and manipulate protein functionalization.

In the case of such techniques applied to one example, amino acids, scientists have been able to expand beyond the canonical 20 amino acides to create additional ones containing diverse chemical functional groups. Liu says this work has opened the door for an array of novel protein research, including one of his group's specialties -- phage display, which makes it possible to target essential components and pathways within many different diseases, from cancer and AIDS to cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders.

"Phage display is an efficient method to identify peptides for therapeutic interventions," Liu said. "However, a phage display peptide library has limited structure motifs and functional groups, because only 20 natural amino acids can be used to generate a library. We plan to expand the chemical diversity of a phage display library by incorporating multiple noncanonical amino acids and chemically modifying them to extend functional diversities. Screening this unnatural phage display library against therapeutic targets such as c-Abl tyrosine kinase is expected to identify highly potent inhibitors beyond our work to regulate p53, a tumor suppressor protein, and in related drug discovery."

Liu earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis in 2005 and completed two years of postdoctoral study in chemical biology at Scripps Research Institute prior to coming to Texas A&M. A member of the American Chemical Society and the Chinese-American Chemistry Professor Association, he earned a 2012 National Science Foundation CAREER Award and recently was recognized as an ACS Journal of Chemical Biology Selected Highly Prolific Author for being among those with the most published articles in the past five years.

"Wenshe's development of non-canonical amino acid mutagenesis to diversify phage display libraries is the most important development in this area of combinatorial library design over the past decade and is highly likely to result in new probes and inhibitors of proteins involved in cancer," said Dr. Tadhg P. Begley, distinguished professor of chemistry and the Robert A. Welch Chair and Derek Barton Professor in Chemistry at Texas A&M. "This very creative project is an ideal match for a CPRIT High Impact High Risk Award."

In addition to Liu, the Texas A&M Health Science Center was awarded six grants totaling more than $8.6 million to fight the state's second-leading cause of death. Texas A&M chemical engineer Pushkar Lele also received an individual $200,000 HIHR grant to help prevent gastric cancer through targeted mechanosensitive enzymes and an improved understanding of related cell mechanics.

Since 2009, CPRIT has awarded more than $1.89 billion in grants that are helping make advancements in prevention and treatment of cancer possible every day. To be eligible to receive CPRIT funds, applicants must be Texas-based entities, including public or private institutions of higher education, academic health institutions, universities, government organizations, non-governmental organizations, other public or private companies, or individuals residing in Texas.

For additional information about CPRIT, visit http://www.cprit.state.tx.us/.

To learn more about Texas A&M Chemistry, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $892.7 million in fiscal year 2016. Texas A&M ranked in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's Higher Education Research and Development survey (2015), based on expenditures of more than $866.6 million in fiscal year 2015. Texas A&M's research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.

About the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas: Beginning operations in 2009, CPRIT provides funding through its academic research, prevention, and product development research programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 135 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than 3.9 million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans. Learn more at cprit.texas.gov, and follow CPRIT on Twitter and Facebook.

-aTm-

Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Wenshe R. Liu, (979) 845-1746 or wliu@chem.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Wenshe R. Liu

  • Dr. Wenshe Liu's research group focuses on devising new genetic code expansion methods for the encoding of non-canonical amino acids in proteins in living cells. (Credit: Dr. Wenshe R. Liu.)

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