Faculty Views

Here's a look at some of the scientists whose ideas helped shape the Advanced Science Research Center

Lesley Davenport ties knots in DNA telomeres

 

Lesley Davenport
Telomeres, specialized proteins at the ends of chromosomes, protect genetic information by forming square knots called G-quadruplexes. Telomeres normally shorten with each division, which eventually triggers cell death. But cancer switches on an enzyme that elongates telomeres, establishing immortality with uncontrolled growth.

"You can inhibit this enzyme by locking the telomeres into the quadruplex, which opens an avenue for chemotherapeutic development," explained Davenport, professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College. Seeking the best spot to attach a quadruplex lock, she inserts a specially synthesized, fluorescent analog of guanine (a building block of DNA) in different places in telomeric DNA.

Since fluorescence can help scientists visualize structures even at low concentrations, she recommended that the ASRC include fluorescence spectroscopic equipment.

Daniel L. Akins thinks small — very small

 

Daniel L. Akins
This Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry at City College has patented an inexpensive way of making nanotubes, which are cylinders of carbon atoms that "have fantastic properties. They're stronger than steel, conduct better than the best metal conductors and have chemical properties that allow one to attach things to them." Things like gold nanoparticles that can register minute electric currents, turning nanotubes into atomic-sized sensors.

Such a sensor could, with the right blood-sampling system, alert people with diabetes to the presence of hydrogen peroxide, which indicates insulin deficiency. The ASRC's advanced imaging equipment will give Akins an even more precise view of the normally invisible world in which he works.

Fred Moshary watches the wind

 

Fred Moshary
A professor at City College's Grove School of Engineering, Moshary helped make the case for placing a 12-by-24-foot atmospheric observatory on the ASRC's roof. There, researchers will visualize the air with novel sensing equipment. For example, they are designing a laser device to bounce light off airborne particulates and molecules.

"The main thing we're looking for on the health side is pollution," Moshary said. "On the environment side, aerosols [liquid or solid particles] figure into the global warming equation, primarily because they represent a cooling effect, not a warming effect." Carbon dioxide, water vapor and other components of air also have an impact. "When you're studying the global warming picture, you have to look at the overall energy balance."

Marie Filbin hits a nerve — and enables it to regenerate when injured

 

Marie Filbin
Nerves are protected by a sheath containing a protein called MAG (myelin-associated glycoprotein), which prevents nerves from sprouting randomly. But MAG also blocks damaged nerves from regrowing.

Filbin, a Distinguished Professor of Biology at Hunter College, found that cyclic AMP, a molecule present in every cell, counteracts MAG. The next step is for colleagues to conduct preclinical trials that could lead to treatment of paralysis and nerve-killing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and motor neuron diseases.

She said ASRC's labs will make genetic manipulation easier, "so you can induce a neuron to make more of the molecules that you're interested in." The facilities also "will bring in some top neuroscientists to do their research, and that will be a big plus for me in terms of collaboration and expertise."

Vinod Menon plays tricks with light

 

Vinod Menon
'You design materials that do not exist in nature, you send light through them, and the light behaves in the way you want it to, such as by turning off or on. Or you design a medium so that the light changes the properties of the material," such as by switching between transparent and reflective, said Queens College Assistant Professor Vinod Menon, one of CUNY's "cluster hires" in photonics.

Photonics is best known for fiber-optic communications, but research also includes biology, medicine, computer displays and lighting (think light-emitting diodes, or LEDs)—plus the futuristic fields of quantum information processing and quantum encryption, in which data reside on single photons (which are to light what electrons are to electricity). Menon looked forward to using the ASRC's nanofabrication facility and ultrasharp imaging equipment to make his devices.