Young Researchers Thrive at NCRC

David Shultis, Post-doctoral Research Fellow (Zhang labs), Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics talks about his lab

On what his lab does
We make small things! We are creating a computational protein engineering platform with two main goals. The first goal is to develop novel macromolecules (proteins) useful in medicine & research that would be extremely hard to design using other protein engineering methods.  The second goal is to improve our understanding of the protein folding process. We are utilizing state-of-the-art algorithms from the Zhang lab protein structure prediction method I-TASSER which has won the CASP worldwide protein structure prediction competition for the last 8 years.  Since protein design and protein structure prediction are inverse processes, it seems likely we may be able to make significant gains in the field of protein design. The current focus is on a protein called XIAP that is involved in regulating whether a cell will live or die. The designed XIAP ‘like’ proteins will be useful in cancer, and heart disease models for drug discovery efforts.

Collaborations
We are currently submitting for publication three papers related to the XIAP project-after starting the lab only a year ago. Our success has come as a result of the strong departmental support lead by Brian Athey and Gil Omen, the outstanding facilities of the NCRC and wonderful collaborative environment of U-M.  The great thing about Michigan is that we have been able to create strong collaborations with several groups that have enriched our experimental approach, as well as saved us money and resources.  The other wonderful aspect of being at Michigan and the NCRC is that the core facilities are excellent.  This has enabled us to rapidly test our design proteins, validate our method, and present it for public use.   

Undergraduate students in labs
We are very happy to have had a large number of such phenomenally talented undergraduate UROP students (over 20) working in our lab over the last two years. These students are designing, making, and performing limited testing of the target proteins. Notably, several of these students have returned to train the newer students making the research more accessible. The students can work at the bench, make mistakes and learn from them. This research program creates increased awareness of the NCRC among the UM undergraduate student body that should yield long term gains with respect to small business and research incubator programs. Importantly, the UROP program has been very supportive of this research. I am hopeful that NCRC will take a more active role in supporting undergraduate student summer research programs that emphasize interdisciplinary collaborative research efforts, specifically between labs at the NCRC.

On being at NCRC
We have been at NCRC for over a year now. I am extremely impressed with how well the complex is taken care of and managed by the facilities team. I appreciate the security on this site, an important factor for young students to come here. Bus transportation is very convenient, consistent and on time. We frequently use the core services located at NCRC such as DNA Sequencing. Most importantly, we have been able to reach out to faculty members and researchers at NCRC, such as Margaret Westfall in the Cardiovascular Research group. We are hopeful that as more groups move to NCRC, and we continue to develop and validate our protein design/engineering platform that we can work together to create cutting-edge advances in medicine.  We want to help make your research better!

On making connections
The NCRC momentUM newsletter, where information about our lab’s work was published in the past, has been very effective in connecting us with faculty members and researchers, and we hope that it will continue to be the case going forward!