Vol 10. Issue 29 / October 4, 2010

Scripps Research Names Innovative Chemist to Florida Faculty

By Eric Sauter

The Scripps Research Institute has appointed Matthew Disney as an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Disney, 35, who is from Baltimore, Maryland, was an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo (NY) before joining the Scripps Florida faculty in August. He lives in Jupiter.

"We are extremely pleased to have Matt Disney join our faculty," said K.C. Nicolaou, chair of The Scripps Research Institute Department of Chemistry. "His rational drug design approaches to treat RNA-mediated diseases such as muscular dystrophy are at the cutting edge of biomedical research. His recent discoveries in the field are exciting and promise to deliver new medicines for unmet needs."

"I'm honored to be joining Scripps Florida," Disney said, "There is no better place to conduct translational research and develop therapeutic products that reach patients. And the fact that there is a growing RNA community here will make our work that much easier."

Disney's research is focused specifically on understanding how to target RNA with small molecules to treat a variety of diseases including muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome, Huntington's disease, and certain types of breast cancer – all diseases in which mutations in RNA (ribonucleic acid) may be the direct cause. Disney has already discovered several compounds that have been shown to be effective against two common but previously incurable types of myotonic muscular dystrophy.

Disney said his first task at Scripps Florida will be to optimize the compounds he has discovered so that they are more potent and less toxic, so they can move into pre-clinical studies as quickly as possible.

"Ultimately, we want to develop methods that will allow us to take any RNA sequence and design small molecules to target that sequence," he said. "Our work with these new compounds really is the first test case for that."

Pushing Science to the Limit

Disney received his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Fellow and later received the Eric A. Batista Award for the most outstanding undergraduate research in 1997.

He went on to earn a master's degree then a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester and to postdoctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. While in Zurich, he received a Roche Foundation postdoctoral fellowship two years in a row.

Disney became an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo in 2005, where he won a Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty award and later the Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award. In 2006, he received the James D. Watson Investigator Award from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology, and Innovation and, in 2008, the Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. In May of this year, he was one of five to receive the University of Buffalo's Exceptional Scholar Award for Young Investigators.

In addition to publishing numerous studies, Disney has developed an RNA-small molecule database that can be profiled against toxic RNAs. Once a disease-causing RNA sequence is found, it can be entered into the database and used to search for small molecules that bind to it.

"One result of our studies shows that we can successfully build a database of RNA structures that bind to small molecules and then use that information to potentially target any toxic RNA structure involved in disease," Disney said. "With Scripps Florida's emphasis on developing lead compounds and extensive resources like high throughput screening, we can accelerate the pace of our research – plus we get to work with great chemistry and chemical biology colleagues. We're going to be able to push our science to the limit."





Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



"There is no better place [than Scripps Florida] to conduct translational research and develop therapeutic products that reach patients," says Associate Professor Matthew Disney.