I am a Professor in the Department of Structural Biology, which is one of several basic science Departments within the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The Department, which was established in 2005 and is headed by Prof. Angela Gronenborn, is focused on applying NMR, X-ray crystallography, Cryo-electron microscopy, as well as other accompanying biophysical tools, for understanding structure-function relationships of biological macromomolecules.
I was trained as a chemist and biochemist, with my undergraduate degree from the University of Puget Sound and my Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My interest in NMR began when I was an undergraduate and investigated the effectiveness of various decoupling schemes – although this did not lead to any publications, it did influence the choice of my thesis advisor, Dr. John Markley and my thesis research project, which was focused on using NMR to study proline cis:trans isomerization in Staphylococcal nuclease. I further broadened my skills in NMR, first as a NIH Kirchenstein fellow in Dr. Laura Kiessling’s lab in the Chemistry Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I studied synthetically-derived polysaccharides, and subsequently as a Staff Fellow in Dr. Dennis Torchia’s laboratory at the National Institutes of Health where I used NMR to study protein structure and dynamics. In 1997, I obtained my first independent position as an Assistant Professor in the Biochemistry Department at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. In the ensuing years, I dedicated my effort toward understanding molecular mechanisms of receptor complex assembly in the TGF-beta family using NMR, X-ray crystallography, and other biophysical tools. In 2003, I was promoted to Associate Professor and in 2006 to Full Professor. In addition to overseeing my own research at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, I also Directed the Biomolecular NMR Core, the Cancer Center Macromolecular Structure and Interactions Core, and the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Graduate Training Program. In 2015, I moved my laboratory to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where my laboratory remains focused on studying structure-function relationships of TGF-beta family signaling proteins. In 2019, I assumed the role of Co-Director of the joint University of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Mellon University Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology (MB+SB) graduate program.
My accomplishments include nearly one-hundred research articles, reviews, and book chapters, as well as several distinguishing honors, including the University of Wisconsin, Madison Everson Lecturership in 2011 and the Robert A. Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry in 2015 (declined). My laboratory has made several key contributions toward deciphering structure-function relationships of TGF-beta family proteins, including structures of the ligand-binding ectodomains of several type I and type II receptors, as well as several binary and ternary ligand-receptor complexes, the latter of which has had an important impact in terms of understanding how the TGF-beta family has diversified. In addition to structural studies, a substantial number of my publications are focused on functional analyses, often but not always employing NMR, to elucidate how dynamics influences function.