June 26, 2012

Carrie Bebermeyer

Saint Louis University Commends First Pew Scholar

Biochemist Frances Yap Receives Grant to Study Antibiotic Resistance

M. N. Frances Yap, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at SLU, has been named a 2012 Pew Scholar, marking the first time a Saint Louis University faculty member has received the prestigious distinction. By backing promising young scientists early in their careers, the Pew Charitable Trusts program enables recipients to take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to advance human health. The program is rigorously competitive, and recipients receive $240,000 over four years to pursue their research without restriction.

Frances Yap, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology  

"The Pew Scholarship has a long tradition of excellence and an outstanding record in identifying some of the most brilliant scientists in the very early stages of their independent careers," said Enrico Di Cera, M.D., chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at SLU. "Dr. Yap's selection is a fitting tribute to her talents and a superb recognition of the quality of research at our university."

Each of the 176 eligible institutions may nominate only one person. Yap expressed gratitude for SLU's confidence in her work.

"It is a real honor," Yap said. "I really appreciate SLU choosing to nominate me. It's also a great reflection on the strength of the biochemistry and molecular biology department here at SLU."

Yap will study the mechanisms by which bacteria gain resistance to the antibiotic erythromycin and will search for molecules that can reverse this process, findings that could lead to the discovery of a new class of antibiotics and therapies to treat antibiotic resistant infections.

Yap's work is focused in the ribosome. Required for protein synthesis, the ribosome is essential to all life. In fighting bacterial infections, many commercial antibiotics work by targeting the bacterial ribosome. However, a small amount of antibiotic can induce the bacteria to make alterations. One way this happens is by producing an enzyme called Erm, which camouflages bacterial ribosomes so that the drug no longer recognizes them. Once camouflaged, even large amounts of antibiotics will no longer work.

"The Pew foundation is very unique in that it encourages high risk research that shows promise," Yap said. "Though I don't have a lot of preliminary data, the committee thinks what I want to do is feasible. This is an unexplored area. I will screen for small molecules that will inhibit protein synthesis in pathogenic bacteria but are not able to induce the resistance mechanism."

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.

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