Professor Thomas Burris's research focus is nuclear receptors, protein molecules that mediate hormone activity inside the cell and that are implicated in the progress of a number of cancers, including prostate, breast, and colon cancers. Nuclear receptors have also become novel targets for drug development in other diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and metabolic syndrome.
Because nuclear receptors are transcription factors, they can bind directly to DNA and activate genes through specific ligands—molecules that affect receptor behavior. The ligands that trigger nuclear receptor activity include the sex hormones, vitamins A and D, and glucocortisoids, which modulate the body's response to stress. First discovered in the 1960s, around 50 nuclear receptors are now known. However, there are no known ligands for a number of these receptors, called orphan receptors, a prominent area of Burris's research.
Before arriving at Scripps Florida, Burris was professor and head of the Nuclear Receptor Biology Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center (Baton Rouge, LA), a leading nutrition research center that is a component of the Louisiana State University system. Prior to that, Burris was a Senior Research Advisor with Lilly Research Laboratories, part of Eli Lilly and Company pharmaceuticals, in Indianapolis, IN.
Professor Burris's expertise should help with the creation of molecular screens that could lead to synthetic protein modulators of orphan nuclear receptors with potential applications in cancer, metabolic disorders, and cholesterol metabolism.
The results of one study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/20/7171.abstract).