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Thomas P. Burris, Noted Nuclear Receptor Expert, Appointed to Scripps Florida Molecular Therapeutics Faculty

JUPITER, FL, February 12, 2009—The Scripps Research Institute has appointed Thomas P. Burris, Ph.D., as a professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at the institute's Scripps Florida campus. Burris's research focus is nuclear receptors, protein molecules that mediate hormone activity inside the cell, and 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.

"We're extremely pleased to have Tom join the department," said Patrick Griffin, the director of molecular therapeutics at Scripps Florida. "His broad knowledge and in-depth experience with nuclear receptor biology and endocrinology meshes perfectly with our ongoing research. On top of everything else, he fits in well with the innovative spirit and collegiality of Scripps Florida. He's a great addition."

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.

"It some ways coming to Scripps Florida is like coming home," said Burris, who is 40 and lives in Jupiter. "I've been impressed with the way the campus has expanded the potential of chemical biology and faculty are able to do academic research in drug discovery. Scripps Florida has all the best parts of working in the biopharmaceutical industry, without many of the industry's inherent limitations."

Focused on Nuclear Receptors

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.

"There has been a major effort recently to examine orphan receptors and I'm looking forward to deciphering several more of them in the next few years," Burris said. "Being at Scripps Florida is critical to that effort because I can interact with top scientists like Pat Griffin and the people in his laboratory. It's great having access to colleagues who I can talk to about these issues on a day-to-day basis."

Griffin, who knew of Burris's nuclear receptor work before he joined Scripps Research himself in 2004, said that 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.

In early 2008, Burris and Griffin also worked together on the development of a novel method to help determine the probable effectiveness of drug candidates for the treatment of estrogen-dependent disorders such as breast cancer and osteoporosis. The results of that study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/20/7171.abstract).

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development. Scripps Florida is currently in the process of moving from temporary facilities to its permanent campus in Jupiter, Florida. Dedication ceremonies for the new campus will be held February 26 – 28, 2009.


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