Professor Uses Chemistry and Protein Research to Battle Disease
Jan. 28, 2013
As an undergraduate student studying chemistry in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Jiyong Lee had an experience that would set his career path.
“I came to know a family that was suffering from a genetic disease called spinocerebellar ataxia,” said Lee, who joined the UT Dallas faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in the fall. “It is a neurodegenerative disease for which there is no known effective treatment or cure. The father of the family was at a late stage of the disease, and he had to witness his two young children start to show symptoms. He hoped someone had a cure so that his family could have a happy life.
“At that moment I realized I wanted to do something for people suffering from this kind of disease.”
Lee’s research focuses on using chemistry-based approaches and technologies to address challenging problems in biology and medicine. His work on the intricacies of interactions among proteins, for example, has applications to better understanding how protein malfunctions contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and spinocerebellar ataxia.
“Understanding protein-protein interaction is very important for biology, medicine and drug discovery,” Lee said. “However, current technologies are limited. They give us static information about protein interaction, but what we need is to track how proteins behave in real-time, throughout the protein’s lifetime.
“I’m developing chemistry-based technology for this kind of study, which hopefully will allow us to develop new drugs that maximize potency while minimizing side effects,” said Lee, who is co-inventor on three patents.
Lee lived in Dallas several years ago while completing his PhD in biological chemistry at UT Southwestern, and had occasionally visited UT Dallas. After being away for three years for postdoctoral studies in California, Lee said he was amazed at UT Dallas’ growth when he returned for his job interview.
“I was very excited to find out that UT Dallas had grown, and I felt that I wanted to be a part of this growing, young university,” Lee said. “Also, because UTD is well known for its strength in materials science and imaging, I thought this would be beneficial to my work as I try to translate my research results into new imaging reagents, diagnostic devices and therapeutics.”
Lee received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Yonsei University in Seoul. Before joining the UT Dallas faculty, he completed postdoctoral research in the departments of chemistry and molecular and experimental medicine at the Scripps Research Institute and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology in La Jolla, Calif.
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