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Andrea Page-McCaw: Analyzing Enzymes
Andrea Page-McCaw

When Andrea Page-McCaw interviewed last year for a faculty position, she knew that Rensselaer’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies was still in the making.

“But the plans were promising. I could see that Bob Palazzo [the center’s director] had a vision of where Rensselaer was going and I trusted in it,” says Page-McCaw, assistant professor in developmental genetics and molecular biology.

Page-McCaw is one of eight new faculty members appointed in Rensselaer’s Biology Department in the past two years. They are helping to expand the university’s research scope in biotechnology with their expertise in cellular, biochemical, and biophysical approaches to the life sciences.

Page-McCaw came to Rensselaer last fall after a six-year research fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, where she conducted seminal research on a group of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which have been associated with many illnesses, including inflammatory diseases, and have been implicated in all stages of tumor progression in cancer. Although there is evidence that their normal purpose is to help in wound healing and joint lubrication, little is still known about how MMPs work normally in the body.

Major stumbling blocks are that the family of enzymes is large — about 22 in humans and mice — and they exhibit complex interdependence with one another.

But Page-McCaw has opened a new door to MMP research by studying the fruit fly, which only has two such enzymes. At UC Berkeley, she discovered that each enzyme is critical for fruit fly survival. “If either one is disabled, the fruit fly dies,” she says.

Page-McCaw, who grew up in Belmont, Mass., earned her undergraduate degree in history and science at Harvard. After college, she landed a job in a law firm in Washington, D.C., tracking clean-air legislation for lobbyists.

In 1990, while at the law firm, she took a night class in biochemistry at American University. The following year she accepted an entry-level position as a research technician at Harvard Medical School, where she studied DNA methyltransferase, an enzyme that likely controls gene expression. She next moved on to MIT, where she earned a Ph.D. in biology in 1998.

She first turned to the fruit fly at MIT to conduct research in cell division. For her postdoctoral research, she wanted to do something that would have immediate medical significance. To do so, she assumed she would have to switch from fruit flies to mice. However, as she attended a variety of cancer seminars, she found time and again the seminal insight in each research program came from genetic work in fruit flies.

“I realized I didn’t have to give up on the tools I worked with, but apply the tools to a new problem,” she says.

A seminar in Boston first exposed her to MMP research, but the research program was one of the few that didn’t highlight insights from fruit flies because the enzymes were only studied in vertebrates.

“I realized that if they could see how MMPs worked in flies, they would have much clearer hypotheses to test in vertebrates,” Page-McCaw says.

Today at Rensselaer, she is focusing on which proteins and cells rely on the enzymes in fruit flies. “If we can better understand MMPs and distinguish differences between normal and pathological function in each one, then we perhaps can improve inhibitors for new cancer drugs,” Page-McCaw says.

Photo by Gary Gold

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MILESTONES

Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu * Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu has been appointed vice president for research. Nalamasu is director of the Center for Integrated Electronics, and professor of materials science and engineering and of chemistry and chemical biology. He serves as co-director of Rensselaer’s Interconnect Focus Center and director of the new Future Energy Systems CAT. He leads Rensselaer’s largest research center with more than $10 million in funding, 50 faculty members, and 100 graduate students, staff, and post-doctoral fellows. Nalamasu has published more than 170 papers, articles, and book chapters; edited two books; and obtained 14 patents (plus six pending). He also serves on several advisory boards including Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Division.
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Richard Lahey Jr. ’64 Richard Lahey Jr. ’64, the Edward Hood Jr. Professor of Engineering, has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Fellowship, one of the most prestigious honors given to senior researchers around the world. Lahey is a pioneer in the field of nuclear reactor technology and safety who is now exploring a new form of nuclear fusion. With the fellowship, he plans to spend a year conducting research at the German National Nuclear Energy Laboratory in Karlsruhe, Germany. In another major honor, Nuclear Engineering & Design journal is publishing a special edition in recognition of Lahey’s 65th birthday. The “Festschrift” edition (a collection of articles to honor a scholar) includes lectures delivered in a special symposium held on Sept. 25, 2004, in Pisa, Italy, in honor of Lahey’s birthday, as well as papers from the International Symposium on Two-Phase Flow Modeling and Experimentation.
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Kathleen Forde Kathleen Forde has been appointed curator of time-based arts for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer. Forde will be responsible for developing, implementing, and managing EMPAC programs for artist residencies, events, performances, installations, and symposia in collaboration with EMPAC Director Johannes Goebel. She will also curate, produce, supervise, and manage performances and projects in cooperation with Goebel. Forde comes to EMPAC from New York City where she worked in 2004-05 as an independent curator for both electronic audiovisual performance and installation. Prior to her work in New York, Forde was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation German Chancellor Scholar and curatorial director for live arts and new media for the Goethe-Forum in Berlin, Germany.
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Harry McLaughlin, professor of mathematical sciences, received the David M. Darrin Counseling Award at Commencement 2005. The award was established by David Darrin ’40 to recognize a faculty member who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of students and who demonstrates special concern for the welfare of students in and out of the classroom. The selection is made by Phalanx, the student leadership honorary society, based upon nominations received from campus. “Professor McLaughlin serves as the prime example of what an adviser should be. He is responsive toward and aware of students’ concerns and situations. He encourages students to learn and take ownership of their education,” said one nominator.
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Arthur Bergles, the Clark and Crossan Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, was recently elected a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He received this distinction for his work in improving process heat exchangers and for his service to the Institute, most recently as a director of the Transport and Energy Processes Division.
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Christopher Bystroff Christopher Bystroff, associate professor of biology, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Bystroff will use the projected five-year, $783,768 grant to develop five statistical models that represent various stages in the folding of proteins. Bystroff is a computational biologist who creates statistical models and molecular simulations to discover how proteins organize and fold into unique structures. His work seeks to better understand the functions of genes and genetic differences at the molecular level. The CAREER Award is one of the NSF’s most competitive and prestigious awards, placing emphasis on high-quality research and novel education initiatives.
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Nikhil Koratkar Nikhil Koratkar, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, received the Rensselaer Early Career Award at Commencement 2005. The award honors productivity in both teaching and research.
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Georges Belfort Georges Belfort, the Russell Sage Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, received the William H. Wiley Distinguished Faculty Award at Commencement 2005. Established by Edward P. Hamilton ’07 in memory of William H. Wiley (Class of 1886), the award honors those who have won the respect of the faculty through excellence in teaching, productive research, and interest in the totality of the educational process.
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Sharon Anderson-Gold, professor and chair of science and technology studies, has received the Jerome Fischbach Faculty Travel Grant, which was funded by Jerome Fischbach ’38 for contributions faculty members have made to the education and motivation of students.
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Bill Kalbaugh, former basketball coach, was inducted into the New York Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. He was honored for his lifetime contribution to area basketball, first as coach of the Mechanicville High School Red Raiders, and then as legendary coach at Rensselaer where, in his 34-year career he amassed 298 victories, including 18 victories — a school record at the time — in the 1969-70 season. He was inducted into Rensselaer’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.
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Donna Bedard Donna Bedard, research professor of biology, has received a Fulbright Lecturing Grant in Biological Sciences. She will use the grant to travel to Prague, Czech Republic, to teach and conduct research at the Institute of Chemical Technology. Bedard, an international expert in environmental bacteria and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) biodegradation, has led many studies of diverse and unusual bacteria and has contributed to a better scientific understanding of the PCB dechlorination process. As part of the Fulbright Grant, Bedard will conduct research on PCB contaminants in river and lake sediments in the Czech Republic and investigate the potential of microbial PCB remediation in sediments from the Czech sites.
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