Vol 10. Issue 22 /July 19, 2010

Noted Biochemist Joins Department of Chemistry

By Eric Sauter

The Scripps Research Institute has appointed Paul R. Thompson, formerly on the faculty at the University of South Carolina, as an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry on the Scripps Florida campus.

Thompson's primary area of interest is the phenomenon of gene expression, particularly the study of histones—small, basic proteins that play a vital role in gene regulation. "

We are thrilled with the appointment of Dr. Thompson to our Scripps Florida faculty," said K.C Nicolaou, chair of the Scripps Research Department of Chemistry. "He is one of the rising stars in the field of biochemistry as it relates to biology and medicine. His science provides a critical component to the drug discovery process and will enhance considerably the capabilities of the department in its mission to make biomedical breakthroughs."

William R. Roush, professor in the Department of Chemistry, executive director of Medicinal Chemistry, and associate dean of graduate studies at Scripps Florida, added, "We're delighted that Paul is joining us. He has a strong reputation, and his research will substantially broaden the chemistry group at Scripps Florida."

Thompson, who is 39 years old and lives in Jupiter, began his new position in May.

"I'm excited by the opportunity to join the Scripps Florida faculty," Thompson said. "The facilities and the faculty are second to none, and the focus on drug development is going to help push our research to the next level. To develop the best compounds, you have to look at everything – biology, chemistry, pharmacology – so the collaborative synergy at Scripps Florida is perfect for our work."

Thompson, who was born in Toronto, received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in biochemistry from McMaster University in Canada. He received a Canadian Institutes for Health Research postdoctoral fellowship for his work in pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University.

Thompson has been a member the American Chemical Society since 2003, and was elected a member of the society's Division of Biological Chemistry Nominating Committee in 2008. He received a New Investigator Award from the American Heart Association in 2005.

Going After Gene Expression

Currently, Thompson's research is focused on the mechanisms of two enzyme families that are involved in the modification of the amino acids (protein building blocks), specifically the enzymes arginine deiminase (PAD) and arginine methyltransferases (PRMT). His research is aimed at identifying the role of these compounds in cell signaling pathways and, ultimately, contributing to new therapies.

"We're particularly interested in developing inhibitors of the PAD enzyme family because two of them are overactive in cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis," he said.

He added that members of the PRMT family also contribute to a number of disease pathologies, including cancer and heart disease.

In addition, Thompson and his colleagues are working to develop synthetic lectins, natural proteins that bind to sugar structures and glycan structures on cells. Lectins are often overexpressed on virus and cancer cells, and play a role in metastatic cancers.

"Having the ability to bind to tumor cells, synthetic lectins could be potentially useful as diagnostics – attaching an imaging agent, for example," he said. "They could also work as a possible therapeutic."

Thompson has published more than 40 studies. His most recent, "Substrate Specificity and Kinetic Studies of Pads 1, 3, and 4 Identify Potent and Selective Inhibitors of Protein Arginine Deiminase 3," was published May 14, 2010, in an advance, online edition of the journal Biochemistry.





Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



"The collaborative synergy at Scripps Florida is perfect for our work," says Associate Professor Paul Thompson. (Photo by James McEntee.)