will placzekAssistant Professor

Research Areas
Cancer gene regulation

Research Interests

Our laboratory focuses on the development of peptide and small-molecule inhibitors of cell signaling proteins involved in cancer gene regulation and apoptosis resistance. We utilize a multidisciplinary approach employing nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) structural biology, synthetic peptide chemistry, NMR and cell based high-throughput drug screening, peptide phage display screening, pharmacophore identification, and cell biology studies to better understand key mechanisms amenable to anti-cancer therapeutic development. A focus of the lab is to develop peptides that mimic one part of key protein-protein interactions for use in target validation and to quickly and specifically target key biological processes.

A central focus of the lab is the study of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family, MCL-1. MCL-1 protein levels have been identified as a key determinant for tumor response and resistance to taxane, vinca-alkaloid, and platinum-containing chemotherapeutics. Therefore, understanding how MCL-1 is regulated and how it influences DNA damage response is critical in assessing how best to deploy multiple classes of emerging targeted therapeutics aimed at the Bcl-2 family, MCL-1 directly, or at proteins that regulate MCL-1 expression and stability.

Key projects currently being pursued in the lab are:

  1. Characterizing the impact that reverse BH3 (rBH3)-containing proteins have on regulation of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins, especially MCL-1.
  2. Determining the post-transcriptional regulators of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family protein MCL-1.
  3. Utilizing mutants of the SUMO E2 ligase, Ubc9, to study the structural determinants of SUMO target selection.
  4. Developing high-throughput screening assays for use in anti-cancer therapeutic development.

Currently, our research is funded by the NIH and the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance.


Graduate School
Ph.D., The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA

Postdoctoral Fellowship
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute


Shelby Biomedical Research Building
Room 710
1825 University Blvd.
Birmingham, AL 35294-2182

(205) 975-2465


Committed to exploring new frontiers in basic and translational research.

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics is an integral part of the vibrant biomedical research community at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). UAB ranks among the top public institutions of higher education in terms of research and training awards. Research conducted by the faculty, staff, and students of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics is currently supported by more than $4.3 million per year in extramural, investigator-initiated grants.


The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics carries out cutting-edge basic and translational research. Research strengths in the department includes cancer biology, chromatin and epigenetic signaling, metabolism and signaling, regulation of gene expression, structural biology, DNA synthesis and repair, and disease mechanisms.


Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics are trained to carry out hypothesis-driven research using advanced research techniques. This training will prepare our graduates for a career in not just biomedical research, but also in other diverse fields that require critical thinking. Our faculty also proudly trains professional (MD, DDS, & DO) students, as well as undergraduate students at UAB.

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