Follow Your Passion By Dr. Allen Cato, III, ISSX Newsletter Editor “I’ve certainly taken a circuitous educational route to get to where I am today,” declares Emily Scott, Ph.D. That indirect route for Scott has proven fascinating, and it began with her sailing the high seas and diving to collect marine specimens for research. Those of you fortunate enough to have attended the 18th North American Regional ISSX Meeting in Dallas, Texas, USA, or to have read the previous edition of the ISSX Newsletter, likely recognize Dr. Scott as a recipient of the North American New Investigator Award in honor of James R. Gillette. During the winding road of Scott’s career, she has studied brittle star hemoglobin, elucidated the structure and function of various human cytochrome P450 enzymes, and worked on a protein linked to prostate and breast cancers. Along the way, she and her husband managed to start a family and they now have two daughters, which may help to explain why one of her favorite props to educate people about her research is a child’s toy.
learn X-ray crystallography and generate some of the first membrane P450 structures. Scott’s next move would take her even further from her days of sailing the high seas and entrench her firmly in the P450 research that recently earned her the ISSX New Investigator award. She Emily Scott, Ph.D. moved from the gulf coast to Kansas to join the Department of Medicinal Chemistry faculty at the University of Kansas, where her research has continued to progress by leaps and bounds. “I was fortunate to get into the P450 field at a stage of tremendous new opportunity in the structure and function of these amazing enzymes,” Scott states. “There is still just so much to be done, so many opportunities, that it’s hard to know what to do next sometimes.” But somehow she always seems to figure it out.
As you may have surmised, Scott’s B.S. degree is in marine biology. Under influential mentor Dr. Donald Harper, she spent several excursions in the Gulf of Mexico diving and collecting marine samples for NSF-funded expeditions lasting weeks at a time. Those samples included brittle stars, a close relative of starfish. She became interested in one brittle star species whose tube feet are red because of the presence of hemoglobin. This Dirk Pitt–like introduction to real-world science both taught her the challenges of doing real-world research and inspired her curiosity about heme proteins.
Another area of research in the Scott lab is P450s and lung cancer. A nicotine byproduct metabolized by CYP2A13 in human lung results in two products linked to lung cancer Continued on page 10
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Yet another twist in the road of Scott’s career occurred when she contemplated postdoctoral options. She yearned to continue heme protein research, but wanted to consider an aspect different from reversible oxygen binding. That motivation led her to membrane cytochrome P450 enzyme research in Dr. James Halpert’s lab at UTMB Pharmacology and Toxicology. While there, she also had the opportunity to collaborate with Scripps researchers Drs. Eric Johnson and David Stout—a mentor trifecta that allowed her to
Recent research has focused on CYP17A1, a drug target for treatment of prostate and breast cancers. CYP17A1 generates androgen steroid hormones, a key part of normal masculine physiology, but also a key supporter of metastatic prostate cancer. The Scott lab recently determined the first structure of CYP17A1, providing a starting point for new-drug design. Their current focus is on determining how the enzyme performs two distinct reactions—but only one of which leads to prostate cancer. So how is this linked to breast cancer? Estrogens are made from androgens, thus, this approach may also be effective for estrogen-responsive breast cancer.
Issue 1, 2013
Thus, for her doctoral studies, she left behind her maritime adventures to focus on heme protein biochemistry at Rice University. There, mentors John Olson and Quentin Gibson not only provided excellent technical training in myoglobin and hemoglobin, but also set excellent personal examples and challenged her to take her research further.