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Thomas O’Halloran appointed Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Chemistry at the MSU Foundation
Thomas O’Halloran’s recent appointment as Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Chemistry at the Michigan State University Foundation completes a circle that began as a graduate student at Columbia University.
It was then that he became aware of the pioneering work of MSU biophysicist Barnett Rosenberg, whose research in the 1970s led to the development of two transformative cancer drugs, cisplatin and carboplatin.
“I cut my teeth and studied the chemistry of platinum cancer drugs,” said Dr. O’Halloran. “Barney Rosenberg’s development of cisplatin was a central inspiration for my dissertation research. I have friends and family members who are alive because of his discoveries. “
Although Rosenberg died in 2009, his legacy continues to save lives and fund additional research at Michigan State University. More than $ 300 million in patent fees for cisplatin and carboplatin went to the MSU Foundation to fund research.
His appointment as professor at the MSU Foundation is “a special honor for me,” said O’Halloran, who moved to MSU from Northwestern University, where he had been on the faculty since 1986. “I am excited to be part of the legacy that Barney’s discoveries were made for Michigan State University and for cancer survivors around the world. “
With a grant from the MSU Foundation, O’Halloran can explore new high-risk, high-reward inorganic compounds that could lead to the treatment of certain types of blood, breast, and brain tumors.
Other parts of his research team focus on metals like iron, copper and zinc, which are essential for human development and health. Working with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, O’Halloran discovered “metal hole-peron proteins” that control how these metals enter and flow through cells.
Many diseases, including certain types of cancer, can occur when these proteins and metals go wrong. O’Halloran’s research has helped improve our understanding of another inorganic drug that is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for the treatment of an inherited condition known as Wilson’s disease that causes excess copper in the body to cause severe liver disease. and can cause brain damage.
In 2010, O’Halloran and Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD, MSU’s new provost (and O’Halloran’s wife) discovered that an egg fertilized by a sperm releases a “zinc spark,” an explosion of the metal, this prevents other sperm from entering the egg cell. Their finding that zinc fluxes also regulate human reproduction was selected as one of Discovery Magazine’s Top 100 Discoveries of 2016 as it could help doctors choose the most viable egg for in vitro fertilization.
At MSU, O’Halloran will lead a new Elemental Health Institute that will bring together chemists, microbiologists, physicists, radiologists, veterinarians, plant biologists, and physicists from across the university to develop ultra-sensitive methods to understand how the chemistry of essentials is and is toxic Elements have an effect on human, animal and plant health.
“I will build on incredible expertise that already exists at MSU,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working in teams all my life – loud, wild teams, and I like training young scientists and thinking about how their fundamental research findings could affect society. Given the depth and breadth of scientists across the MSU, it was easy to begin a series of new collaborative studies.
“Every day I see something new and it’s exciting.”
Much of the loan, O’Halloran said, goes to Barney Rosenberg to spark his interest in the bioinorganic chemistry of cancer.
“I can only hope that Barney’s creativity and accomplishments will affect us as we push the boundaries at the intersection of inorganic chemistry, biology and medicine,” he said.