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Barbara Slusher, M.A.S., Ph.D., leads a 20-member veteran drug discovery team of medicinal chemists, assay developers, pharmacologists, toxicologists and pharmacokinetic/drug metabolism experts, who identify novel drug targets arising from JHU faculty’s research and translate them into new, small molecule drug therapies.
Her team collaborates extensively with faculty at the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and leads the BKI immunotherapy drug discovery core, aimed at developing new immune-targeting drug therapies for laboratory and clinical testing at Johns Hopkins.
Ernesto Freire Laboratory
The Ernesto Freire Lab studies the use of novel drugs to treat disease. Our research has resulted in the development of a thermodynamic platform for drug discovery and optimization. Our aim is to achieve high binding affinity and selectivity as well as appropriate pharmacokinetics with the platform. We are currently focusing on drug targets such as HIV/-1 protease inhibitors (HIV/AIDS), plasmepsin inhibitors (malaria), HCV protease inhibitors (hepatitis C), coronavirus 3CL-pro protease inhibitors (SARS and other viral infections), HIV-1 gp120 inhibitors (HIV/AIDS), chymase inhibitors (cardiovascular disease) and beta lactamase inhibitors (antibiotic resistance).
The Gabelli lab research is focused on structural, mechanistic and functional aspects of enzyme activation that play a role in the biology of human diseases such as cancer, parasitic infection and cardiovascular disease. Their work seeks to:
1. Understand how molecular events at the recognition level coordinate and trigger events in the cells
2. Translate structural and mechanistic information on protein:protein interactions at the cytoplasmic level into preventive and therapeutic treatment for human disease.
To achieve a comprehensive understanding, they are studying cytoplasmic protein-protein interactions involved in regulation of pathways such as PI3K and Sodium Voltage gated channels. Their research integrates structural biology and chemical biology and it is focused on drug discovery for targeted therapies.
Gabsang Lee Lab
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) provide unprecedented opportunities for cell replacement approaches, disease modeling and drug discovery in a patient-specific manner. The Gabsang Lee Lab focuses on the neural crest lineage and skeletal muscle tissue, in terms of their fate-determination processes as well as relevant genetic disorders.
Previously, we studied a human genetic disorder (familial dysautonomia, or FD) with hiPSCs and found that FD-specific neural crest cells have low levels of genes needed to make autonomous neurons--the ones needed for the "fight-or-flight" response. In an effort to discover novel drugs, we performed high-throughput screening with a compound library using FD patient-derived neural crest cells.
We recently established a direct conversion methodology, turning patient fibroblasts into "induced neural crest (iNC)" that also exhibit disease-related phenotypes, just as the FD-hiPSC-derived neural crest. We're extending our research to the ne...ural crest's neighboring cells, somite. Using multiple genetic reporter systems, we identified sufficient cues for directing hiPSCs into somite stage, followed by skeletal muscle lineages. This novel approach can straightforwardly apply to muscular dystrophies, resulting in expandable myoblasts in a patient-specific manner.
James Barrow Laboratory
The James Barrow Laboratory studies drug discovery at the Lieber Institute. He leads research related to medicinal chemistry, biology, and drug metabolism, with the goal of validating novel mechanisms and advancing treatments for disorders of brain development.
The Johns Hopkins NIMH Center is comprised of an interdisciplinary research team who has pooled their talents to study the nature of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Their aim is to translate discoveries of the pathophysiological mechanisms into novel therapeutics for HAND.Our objectives are to integrate aspects of ongoing research in HAND and SIV encephalitis; to develop high-throughput and screening assays for identifying novel therapeutic compounds; to use proteomics and lipidomics approaches to indentifying surrogate markers of disease activity; to disseminate information and education about HAND through existing and new educational systems, including the JHU AIDS Education Training Center and the JHU Center for Global Clinical Education and to facilitate the entry of new investigators into neuro-AIDS research, and to catalyze new areas of research, particularly where relevant for drug discovery or the development of validated surrogate markers.
While there has been an explosion of knowledge about human carcinogenesis over the last 2 decades, unfortunately, this has not translated into the development of effective therapies for either preventing or treating the common human cancers. The goal of the Isaacs’ lab is to change this situation by translating theory into therapy for solid malignancies, particularly Prostate cancer. Presently, a series of drugs discovered in the Isaacs’ lab are undergoing clinical trials in patients with metastatic cancer.
The ongoing drug discovery in the lab continues to focus upon developing agents to eliminate the cancer initiating stem cells within metastatic sites of cancer. To do this, a variety of bacterial and natural product toxins are being chemically modified to produce “prodrugs” whose cytotoxicity is selectively activated by proteases produced in high levels only by cancer cells or tumor associated blood vessel cells. In this way, these prodrugs can be given systemically to metastati...c patients without un-acceptable toxicity to the host while being selectively activated to potent killing molecules within metastatic sites of cancer.
Such a “Trojan Horse” approach is also being developed using allogeneic bone marrow derived Mesenchymal Stem cells which are genetically engineered to secrete “prodrugs” so that when they are infused into the patient, they selectively “home” to sites of cancers where the appropriate enzymatic activity is present to liberate the killing toxin sterilizing the cancer “neighborhood”. view more
The program in cancer and immunometabolism seeks to both understand and target metabolic programming in both the cancer and immune cells in order to enhance immunotherapy for cancer. To this end, in collaboration in with the Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery Program, the lab is developing novel agents that target tumor glutamine metabolism. These compounds not only inhibit tumor growth but render tumors more susceptible to immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade and adoptive cellular therapy. Additionally, the group is dissecting key metabolic pathways that regulate immune cell activation, differentiation and function. By targeting these pathways, they are discovering new ways to both enhance the efficacy of antitumor T cells as well as inhibit T regulatory cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells.