CPRIT Award Boosts University’s Cancer Research, Faculty Recruitment

Dr. Eric Welin

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recently awarded $2 million to The University of Texas at Dallas as part of the organization’s program to recruit top talent in cancer research to the state.

The First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member grant will support the research of Dr. Eric Welin, an assistant professor of chemistry who joined the faculty of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics this fall.

Welin is the first UT Dallas faculty member to be supported by a CPRIT recruitment grant. One of three types of recruitment awards, the First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty grant supports emerging investigators in their first faculty appointment who are expected to make outstanding contributions in cancer research. Researchers who accept CPRIT recruitment awards are designated as CPRIT Scholars.

Welin received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from The Ohio State University and his PhD in chemistry from Princeton University. Before arriving at UT Dallas, he spent four years as an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

“I was attracted to UT Dallas for its rapid growth while maintaining high academic standards,” Welin said. “The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is committed to creating an elite atmosphere in which to pursue chemistry research. Furthermore, the state of Texas provides unique opportunities to chemists by funding their research in ways that are not possible in any other state.

“I couldn’t be more excited to contribute to the department at UTD through a combination of teaching and research.”

Welin’s research focuses on organic synthesis and catalysis — specifically, on small, carbon-based molecules that occur naturally and show promise as medicinal agents.

“More than 60% of new cancer drugs developed between 1981 and 2014 are natural products or derived from natural products, but these molecules are so rare that it is not possible to rely on natural sources to supply them,” he said. “Our role as synthetic chemists is to develop new techniques to prepare and study these natural products in the lab, which is a process referred to as total synthesis.  Our primary interest is in studying natural products that have promise as novel anti-cancer agents and antibiotic drugs, and we have numerous collaborations at UT Dallas and at UT Southwestern Medical Center for their continued study and biological evaluation.”

I couldn’t be more excited to contribute to the department at UTD through a combination of teaching and research.

Dr. Eric Welin, assistant professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Welin’s research group also is developing new methods that incorporate visible light to forge bonds between carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms, among others.

“This process is conceptually similar to the way plants use photosynthesis to produce glucose, and we are inspired by the idea of reproducing this in the lab,” he said. “Some elements of this research are aimed at probing the fundamental reactivity of molecules that possess bonds between carbon and metal atoms, which are known as organometallic compounds, while other efforts will be aimed at enabling new methods to prepare both natural products as well as existing druglike molecules.”

Founded in 2008, CPRIT has awarded $2.43 billion in grants to Texas research institutions and organizations through its academic research, prevention and product development research programs. With this latest grant, UT Dallas has received more than $16 million from CPRIT to support cancer studies. In November, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment to reauthorize CPRIT and provide an additional $3 billion for a total $6 billion investment in cancer research and prevention.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].