John Tavis, PhD
The Tavis lab’s primary focus is in antiviral drug discovery targeting the Hepatitis B Virus ribonuclease H (RNaseH). They have developed a suite of biochemical and cell-based assays to evaluate how inhibitors of the RNaseH affect the enzyme and viral replication. Their key resource is a library chemically diverse set of nuclease inhibitors and their analogs acquired through collaborations with medicinal chemists. They routinely conduct cytotoxicity assays using MTS (mitochondrial function), neutral red retention (lysosome function), crystal violet retention (DNA accumulation, usually interpreted as cell growth), and LDH release (plasma membrane integrity) to gain a more comprehensive view of how their compound affect the cell. They collaborate with medicinal chemists in the United States, France, Greece and China and are actively pushing forward two anti-HBV RNaseH hit-to-lead optimization projects. Through these collaborations, they have demonstrated that the inhibitors in their library can have high selectivity for one virus or cellular organism over the others, opening a pathway to antimicrobial development targeting nucleases.
Marvin Meyers, PhD
The research in Marvin Meyers’ lab is focused the application of medicinal chemistry towards the discovery of potential drug candidates to treat people with rare and neglected diseases. It collaborates with experts in infectious disease biology, including malaria, tuberculosis, infectious diarrhea (cryptosporidiosis), cryptococcal meningitis, hepatitis B virus and herpes simplex virus. The lab also has ongoing collaborations with experts in oncology, FSHD muscular dystrophy and infant short-gut syndrome.
The lab uses synthetic organic chemistry techniques to prepare new compounds, which are analyzed by its collaborators to assess their biological properties. Using medicinal chemistry and structure-based drug design principles, the lab optimizes the potency, pharmacokinetics and safety profiles of compounds with the goals of identification of tool compounds and, ultimately, candidate drug molecules for clinical trials.
David Griggs, PhD
David Griggs’ laboratory specializes in drug discovery and the translation of basic discoveries to therapeutic application. It performs assay development and optimization for high-throughput screening of compounds, assessment of target potency and selectivity for lead characterization, and in vitro and in vivo assessment of compound pharmacokinetics and metabolism (ADME). A major interest of Griggs for many years, both at SLU and in prior research performed while working at global pharmaceutical companies (Searle/Pharmacia/Pfizer), has been the roles of integrins in physiology and disease. The lab has recently discovered and characterized new small molecule compounds that are making exciting progress toward development of an effective treatment to reduce or reverse the destructive organ fibrosis that occurs in many disease conditions. The lab is also currently applying its molecular, cellular and pharmacology expertise in sponsored research programs to develop new medicines for treatment of tuberculosis, cryptosporidiosis and bone disorders.
Silviya Zustiak, PhD
Zustiak’s laboratory focuses on hydrogel biomaterials and soft tissue engineering, with emphasis on developing novel biomaterials as cell scaffolds, drug screening platforms and protein delivery devices.
Tissue engineered three-dimensional (3D) in vitro models for studying tissue physiology and pathology, bridge the gap between two-dimensional (2D) tissue culture, which does not capture the complexity of human tissue, and animal models, which are costly, time-consuming and raise ethical concerns. Zustiak applies her expertise in the design and characterization of synthetic biomaterials, to provide a complete toolbox for building 3D in vitro models as platforms for toxicology screening and for the study of disease progression, currently focusing on solid tumors in soft tissues.
Zustiak’s laboratory also develops injectable and biodegradable hydrogel formulations for sustained localized protein release. These technologies enable novel and effective protein-based therapeutic strategies by: i) providing sustained protein release in vivo, ii) preserving the proteins’ bioactivity, iii) decreasing protein immunogenicity, and iv) localizing protein release.
Jack Kennel, PhD
Jack Kennell, Ph.D., is chair of the SLU Department of Biology. His lab is interested in mitochondrial genomics, intracellular communication pathways, mobile genetic elements and evolution in fungi. He primarily study filamentous fungi (Neurospora and Fusarium spp.), but has worked with a variety of both ascomycete and basidiomycete yeasts and are part of Malassezia consortium. He has conducted two projects that involved the assessment of anti-microbial agents: 1) anti-bacterial effectiveness of silver and zinc compounds in polyurethane rubber compounds (such as flooring products), and; 2) mode of action of zinc pyrithione (the active ingredient in many anti-dandruff shampoos). He has developed some relatively simple and reliable assays that can be conducted in micro-titer plates and carried out by undergraduate students, and also has a collection of Neurospora mutants that can provide insight into whether the anti-fungal properties relate to inhibiting mitochondrial function.
Graeme Thomas is Assistant to the Vice President for Research, Research Innovation Initiatives. He is responsible for a range of projects within Saint Louis University, as outlined below.
Thomas has led the spin-out and support of numerous startup businesses based on SLU research and development of drugs for the treatment of fibrotic disease, non-opioid pain relief, HSV, fungal infections and hepatitis B. He has also been engaged in the commercialization of drugs developed for use in treatment of rare diseases including MPS VII enzyme deficiencies and FSHD muscular dystrophies.
Thomas has led additional initiatives within SLU including the spin-out of a joint-venture CRO focused on PK/PD studies in partnership with an executive of the former Center for World Health & Medicine (CWHM). He later led the repositioning within SLU of ongoing drug development programs formerly conducted within CWHM. He is responsible for the promotion and expansion of the university’s sponsored research initiative, for the formation and management of a series of research innovation funding and engagement initiatives, for the launch of high-potential SLU startups and for the direction and oversight of MEDLaunch, SLU’s student-led, student-driven biomedical incubator.