Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Michael Leffak, Ph.D., Interim Chair

News from the Department

Tour of Discovery Highlights WSU Research

Lawrence Prochaska, Ph.D., served as emcee for the Tour.
(From left) Kelli Dixon, executive director of the AHA Great Rivers Affiliate; Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D.; and Dean Marjorie A. Bowman, M.D., M.P.A.

On Jan. 30, the Boonshoft School of Medicine hosted a Tour of Discovery in the Matthew O. Diggs III Laboratory for Life Science Research to showcase how donations to the American Heart Association (AHA) are invested in cutting-edge heart and stroke research in the Dayton community. The event was organized by Dean Marjorie Bowman, M.D., M.P.A., who serves as chair of this year’s Annual Heart Ball, along with the Heart Ball Executive Leadership Team she assembled to help with fund raising on the Wright State campus.

Visitors had the opportunity to interact with local American Heart Association-funded researchers and tour labs. Lawrence Prochaska, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and president of the AHA Dayton Metro Area, served as emcee. During the event, he was presented with an award recognizing his long-term leadership role in the AHA Ohio Affiliate and for his research in the area of cardiovascular diseases.

Another member of the dean’s Heart Ball Executive Leadership Team, Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, received an award for his continued involvement in research that has received funding from the AHA. Cambronero’s research focuses on how leukocytes in the blood arrive to an injured tissue (like the heart after an ischemic episode) and can make the situation even worse by releasing powerful and harmful substances. The goal of his research team is to understand this process from the cellular and molecular point of views and, importantly, to find inhibitors (small molecule chemicals) that could deter those leukocytes and prevent them for inflicting major tissue damage to the heart.

As a way of thanking the AHA for its support, Cambronero has volunteered to serve in the review and evaluation of scientific projects submitted by other investigators in peer-review panels. This involves the study of many worthwhile proposals twice a year and the participation in a discussion panel to rank them based on their scientific merit. The research proposals are funded based on donations. Contributions to the AHA will help fund grants that could be crucial in finding a better treatment or a new medicine for heart disease or stroke.

The 2014 Heart Ball is working to raise more than $320,000. Proceeds support the association’s research, education, and advocacy programs throughout the Miami Valley, including research at Boonshoft School of Medicine, fitness programs in area schools, CPR training and public health advocacy campaigns.

The Presenting Sponsor of the 2014 Heart Ball is Premier Health. Local sponsors include Premier Health Net and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. For more information, log on to or contact Sybil Martin at (937) 853-3108.

More news from 2014

  • Congratulations to Heather Hostetler, Ph.D., for being appointed to the editorial board of Nuclear Receptor Research.
  • Madhavi Kadakia, Ph.D., was selected to chair scientific sessions at two international meetings: The 6th International p63/p73 Workshop in Chiba, Japan, September 2013; and the 4th International Workshop on Stem Cells and Cancer in Mumbai, India, October 2013.
  • Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., is organizing an international research conference on “Phospholipid Cell Signaling and Metabolism in Inflammation and Cancer,” under the auspices of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which will take place June 1-6, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Read the news release.
  • Michael Leffak, Ph.D., has been named interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
  • Michael Leffak, Ph.D., was named to the editorial boards of DNA Repair and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, beginning in 2014.
  • Congratulations to Rachel Omolewu, 2010 graduate in Lawrence Prochaska’s lab.  She was honored with The Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award of Excellence at the Alumni Association Achievement Awards Ceremony on Oct. 1, 2013.
  • Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., is organizing an international research conference under the auspices of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a non-profit federation of 26 research societies. The conference, “Phospholipid Cell Signaling and Metabolism in Inflammation and Cancer,” will take place June 1-6, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Cambronero is organizing the event along with George M. Carman, Ph.D., Board of Governors professor of food science and director of the Rutgers Center for Lipid Research. Cambronero has raised more than $35,000 in support of this meeting.

News from 2013

  • Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., and his lab team (in collaboration with Steven Berberich, Ph.D., Emily Dudley, D.V.M., and Gregory Boivin, D.V.M.), has identified a key protein critical to tumor growth and metastasis in breast cancer. The research was published in Oncogene and featured in the online newsroom of the medical school. The research has drawn widespread attention in the media, including a front page article in the Dayton Daily News on Oct. 19. (The article requires a subscription.) It was most recently featured in the Beavercreek News Current.
  • Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., has been named the Brage Golding Distinguished Professor of Research at Wright State University. Named after WSU's first president, the award recognizes outstanding research by a WSU faculty member. The title Distinguished Professor of Research is a special rank awarded by the Board of Trustees to a faculty member who has produced a significant body of work in scholarship, research or the creative arts, which brings distinction to the university and national or international recognition to the faculty member. The university produced a YouTube video tribute in his honor and the medical school issued a news release.
  • Khadijeh Alnajjar (Lawrence Prochaska's Lab)received a Student Research Achievement Award at the 2013 Biophysical Society Annual Meeting for having the best poster in the Bioenergetics Subgroup. One graduate student from each of the 13 different subgroups was given this prestigious international award, which resulted from a judged competition.
  • Lawrence Prochaska, Ph.D., has been elected president of the Dayton American Heart Association Board of Directors.

News from 2012

  • Valery Lozada Fernandez, a STREAMS student from Dr. Hostetler's lab, won two National ABRCMS Biomedical Research awards for her poster presentation titled “The oxysterol responsive nuclear receptor LXRa binds to fatty acid derivatives,” at the 2012 National ABRCMS Biomedical Research Conference, Nov. 7-10, 2012. These awards include Outstanding Poster Presentation in Biochemistry and Outstanding Poster Presentation in Interdisciplinary Research.
  • BMS Ph.D. student Madhu Mahankali (Dr. Gomez-Cambronero's lab) published a paper as first author in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, “Identification of the Catalytic Site of Phospholipase D2 (PLD2) Newly Described GEF Activity.” She also received a Travel Award from the American Society for Cell Biology to attend the ASCB meeting in San Francisco. Ramya Ganesan, an M.S. student in the same lab, has received a fellowship from the WSU University Center for International Education. Congratulations to both Madhu and Ramya!
  • Richard Agans and Vijay Shankar (BMS Ph.D. students in Dr. Paliy's group), have both received Original Work Grants from the Wright State University Graduate Student Assembly for the 2012 year to carry out research on human-associated microbial communities. Congratulations!
  • Khadijeh Alnajjar (Dr. Prochaska's lab) was selected to receive an ASBMB Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellow Travel award to attend the symposium on Mitochondria: Energy, Signals and Homeostasis, held June 27-29, at Michigan State University.
  • Madhu Mahankali (Dr. Cambronero's lab) was awarded an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship for two years to pursue research on the connection between phospholipase D, reactive oxygen species and the basis for arterial damage.

News from 2011

  • Julian G. Cambronero, Ph.D., was awarded the title of "Honorary Professor" at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, on April 10, 2012. He was nominated by Dr. Hong-Juan Peng, a visiting professor in Dr. Cambronero's lab two years ago and with whom he has established scientific collaborations in the field of Rho-GTPases and cell migration. Read more here.
  • Dhawal Oswal (Dr. Hostetler's lab) was awarded an American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology travel award to attend the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, April 20-25, 2012, where he presented his work on "Fatty acids and their thioester derivatives as ligands for human PPARalpha."
  • Madhumitha Balanarasimha (Dr. Hostetler's lab) successfully defended her master's thesis fall quarter. Currently, she and her husband are enjoying the company of their baby girl Surabi (born Nov. 16, 2011).
  • baby girlsDrs. Hostetler and Rider were blessed by the birth of Autumn, Mahala and Samantha in September (shown in that order at right). The girls have settled in at home in Fairborn with Mom, Dad and the kitties.
  • Dr. Julian G. Cambronero's laboratory has discovered that the enzyme phospholipase D2 (PLD2) binds directly to the small GTPase Rac2. This discovery, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences represents the first report of a phospholipase enzyme harboring guanine nucleotide exchange (GEF) activity. Given that several human tumors exhibit elevated PLD2 levels this work suggest that this elevation may impact Rac2 function. (Abstract)
  • Christopher Vaiana (Dr. Kadakia’s laboratory) successfully defended his master’s thesis. He was also awarded the Air Force Director’s Military Award. Chris began the Ph.D. program in chemistry at New York University in the fall
  • Nobel Prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse, Ph.D., presented the Varandani Lecture on Nov. 2.
  • Sam Kantonen, an undergrad student at Dr. Julian Cambronero’s lab, was selected to present a paper at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) 2011 at Ithaca College, New York, April 1, 2011. The paper, “Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome Protein Interacts with Phospholipase D2 through Growth Factor Receptor-Bound Protein 2,” allowed Sam to present the results of his research at a national venue. The NCUR, established in 1987, is dedicated to promoting undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity in all fields of study by sponsoring an annual conference for students.
  • Dr. Julian G. Cambronero was invited to present at a Gordon Research Conference on Phagocytes held at the Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C., June 19-24. The biannual 2011 Gordon Research Conference on Phagocytes will bring together experts and trainees from around the world to discuss the most recent advances in the field, with a view to better understand the biology and pathophysiology of neutrophils, macrophages, microglia, osteoclasts and dendritic cells. Phagocyte dysfunctions are involved in infectious diseases, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
  • Madhumitha Balanarasimha, Hostetler lab, was awarded an ASBMB (American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) travel award to attend the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, D.C., April 8-13 where shepresented her work on the demonstration of interaction of full-length PPARa and LXRa.
  • Dr. Michael Leffak's laboratory published in Nature Chemical Biology that probing trinucleotide repeat structures using engineered zinc-finger nucleases provides evidence that DNA hairpins form in vivo and are linked to replication-dependent genomic instability. Instability of (CTG)-(CAG) repeats in microsatellite DNA has been linked to numerous neurological diseases.

News from 2010

  • Dr. Lawrence Prochaska was appointed to the editorial board as a review editor of the journal Frontiers in Mitochondrial Physiology in November.
  • Laura Rigsbee, a master's student in Dr. Paliy's lab, received the biochemistry and molecular biology department's Graduate Student Excellence Award for the 2009-10 academic year. Laura is working on a research project that examines the role of intestinal bacteria in human gastrointestinal disorders. She is a first author on a paper submitted for publication, and has also contributed to three poster presentations at scientific conferences in the past year.
  • Madhu Mahankali received the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program's Graduate Student Excellence Award for the 2009-10 academic year. Madhu is completing her Ph.D. thesis in Dr. Julian Gomez-Cambronero's laboratory studying the role of the signaling molecule "phospholipase D" (PLD) in increasing the invasiveness and metastatic potential of tumor cells.
  • Kevin Kelley, M.D./Ph.D., student in Dr. Berberich's lab was awarded the 2010 Academy of Medicine Outstanding Student Research Award. Kevin successfully defended his thesis in May and will be returning to his third year of medical school later this summer.
  • Dr. Julian Gomez-Cambronero was invited to serve as a member of the Innate Immunity and Inflammation Study Section (National Institutes of Health) for a four-year term beginning in late 2009

News from 2009

  • Dr. Steven Berberich officially became chair of the department, effective Nov. 1, 2009.
  • Dr. Michael Markey and his wife welcomed a baby boy, Gavin Andrew Markey, on Dec. 17, 2009.
  • Dr. Lubna Abu-Niaaj has joined the Leffak laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Abu-Niaaj comes from Indiana State University, where she worked on the cloning and expression analysis of the Suppressors of Cytokine Signaling, Socs1 and Socs3. Her postdoctoral work will focus on the role of the DNA unwinding element binding protein, DUE-B, in the initiation of DNA replication and checkpoint signaling.
  • Dr. Michael Leffak received two NIH R01 awards over the past several months: "Analysis of the human c-myc gene replication origin" (four-year award) and "The role of the DNA unwinding element binding protein, DUE-B, in DNA replication" (two years).
  • Dr. Heather Hostetler joined the department as an assistant professor on Sept. 1. She has received a three-year NIH R00 award entitled, "The role of long chain acyl-CoAs in nuclear receptor regulation."
  • Dr. Yong-jie Xu's cancer research project, "Phosphorylation network of the DNA replication checkpoint in fission yeast," has been funded by the Ohio Cancer Research Associates.
  • Teresa Cvetkov, a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Prochaska's laboratory, placed in the 10K Run in the U.S. Air Force Marathon. (Time: 41:11 min.; pace: 6:39 min/mile; place: 20th overall, 2nd woman, 1st in age category.)
  • Rachel Omolewu, an M.S. student in Dr. Prochaska's laboratory, also ran in the 10K Run in the U.S. Air Force Marathon. (Time: 49:09 min.; pace: 7:57 min/mile; place: 136th overall, 18th woman, 6th in age category.)
  • Dr. Dan Organisciak, director of the Petticrew Research Laboratory, has been named a Gold Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). The honor was bestowed on him and about 25 other vision scientists at the ARVO meeting held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, May 3-7, 2009.
  • Katie Leonard and Andrew Whitlatch, Ph.D. students, received first and second place awards for their talks at the 2009 Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program Retreat.
  • Christopher Vaiana, master's candidate, won the 2009 Outstanding Graduate Student award.
  • Dr. Rajesh Naik, adjunct professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has been elected a SPIE Fellow in recognition of significant service to SPIE and the international optics community.
  • Dr. Rebecca Tuttle, a resident in the WSU General Surgery Residency Program, won the 2nd Place Research Poster Award at the 10th Annual DAGMEC Resident and Fellow Research Forum.
  • Amber Todd, Ph.D. candidate, won the 2009 Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program.
  • Kevin Kelley, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, won the First Place Poster Award at the Boonshoft School of Medicine's Medical Student Research Symposium.

BMB break room
Check out the new break-room couch: Thanks to Linda for the donation.
Couch movers Kevin, Casey and Richard took the first break on it.