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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

will placzekAssociate 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


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