Professor Pomerantz receives CSE Guillermo E. Borja award
Professor William "Will" C.K. Pomerantz has received the 2018 Guillermo E. Borja Career Development Award from the College of Science & Engineering (CSE). This award is given to promising young CSE faculty members in recognition of their research and scholarly accomplishments during their probationary period as assistant professors. He is the first professor from the Department of Chemistry to receive this award, which comes with $3,000 for scholarly and research activities.
Rising star in chemical biology
Pomerantz’ research is interdisciplinary and melds spectroscopy, cell biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry approaches. He collaborates with colleagues in the departments of Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, and Biochemistry Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and with industrial collaborators at Eli Lilly.
A central focus of his research program is the development of new approaches for modulating protein-protein interactions in the field of chemical epigenetics. Understanding molecular mechanisms that govern how genetic information is expressed, beyond what is dictated by genetic code, is at the heart of epigenetics. In the field of chemical epigenetics, chemists like Professor Pomerantz seek to apply chemical tools to manipulate epigenetic processes to further understand the biology or to treat diseases.
Based on Pomerantz’ interest in inhibiting protein-protein interactions using small molecules, his lab has developed significant expertise in developing protein-based 19F NMR methods for drug discovery applications. Researchers in his lab have applied this approach toward transcription factors and transcription-associated proteins involved in epigenetics to ultimately discover new ways for treating cancer. They were the first to demonstrate the application of using fluorinated proteins for small molecule screening by 19F NMR (Gee et al. ACIE, 2015, Gee et al. Nat. Protocol, 2016), and have since applied this to various epigenetic proteins, BPTF, CBP, Brd4, and BrdT. Of note, they were the first to report on a bromodomain inhibitor for BPTF, termed AU1, and are now exploring the role of bromodomain inhibition in breast cancer (Urick et al. ACS Chem. Biol. 2015, Frey et al. Stem Cell Reports, 2017). Because protein-based 19F NMR reports on the surroundings of individual fluorine tags, researchers can define not only if a molecule binds to a protein, but where, and can rapidly quantify the strength of the interaction. Fluorine’s signal sensitivity, simplified spectra, minimal perturbation to protein function, and lack of biological background signals, make it a powerful NMR nucleus for accelerating ligand discovery. Their next area of focus is to apply their small molecule and spectroscopic approaches to study epigenetic process on native chromatin.
Additional areas of research being explored in the Pomerantz lab include using highly fluorinated materials as diagnostic 19F MRI imaging agents for oxygen sensing and molecular imaging of cancer biomarkers. This work is a collaborative with Chemistry Professor Christy Haynes and Professor Michael Garwood from the University’s Magnetic Resonance Center. Researchers also design peptide macrocycles as an orthogonal way to inhibit protein-protein interactions that are less tractable to small molecule inhibition.
Pomerantz’ research program has garnered interest in both academia and industry. His work has been published in some of the American Chemical Society’s top publications as well as Nature Chemical Biology and Nature Protocols. He has received research grants from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Foundation, Masonic Cancer Center, Eli Lilly, Research Corporation, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health.
In addition to his research, Pomerantz is an active and involved professor in the Department of Chemistry and University. He has developed a chemical biology boot camp for graduate students, which has run the last five years. He has now brought his 19F NMR approaches into the undergraduate curriculum at Gustavus Adolphus College in collaboration with Professor Scott Bur. Several of the boot camp modules helped with the development of the department’s chemical biology laboratory. To spread his enthusiasm for his research discipline, Pomerantz has taught chemical biology to retirees through the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI) over the last four years, and has held joint classes with OLLI and his students in his freshmen seminar course, “Chemistry to Modern Medicine: Changing the way we dye.”
"Will is a rising star in chemical biology and an exceptional contributor in every aspect of our mission,” said Department Head David Blank. “I am thrilled, although not surprised, that he was selected as the recipient of the Borja award."
About Professor Pomerantz
Pomerantz has been a professor in the Department of Chemistry since 2012. He also is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and one of the founding members of the Epigenetics Consortium on campus. Before coming to the University of Minnesota, he was a National Institutes of Health post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan. He earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent a year as a Seydel/Fulbright Fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Ithaca College.
He has received numerous honors and awards, including being named a Rising Star in Chemical Biology by the International Chemical Biology Society in 2016, Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 2016, University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for 2016-18, Kimmel Scholar Award from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research in 2015, National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2014, and CSE Teaching Fellow in 2014.