Nicole LaRonde

Targeting RIO Kinases for New Anti-Cancer Drugs

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Cancer cells need new ribosomes for increased protein synthesis and tumor growth. The RIO atypical protein kinases are essential for the production of new ribosomes and cooperate in several other cancer-supportive processes, including cell migration and proliferation. These enzymes exhibit unusual chemistry and the exact molecular role of their catalytic activity is still not clear. Discovery of small molecule inhibitors for this family has yielded promising leads with potent anti-cancer activity. Our current view of structure and biochemistry of these essential enzymes, as well as our model for its function in ribosome biogenesis will be presented. In addition, given the involvement of RIO proteins in cancer processes and the status of inhibitor development targeting these enzymes, a case will be made for the future of RIO kinase inhibitors as selective anti-cancer therapeutics.

About the Speaker

Nicole LaRonde is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Maryland. She received a Ph.D. in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2002 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute at Frederick until 2006. In both posts, she trained as a structural biologist specializing in macromolecular structure determination by X-ray crystallography. She was awarded the FEBS Journal Prize for Young Scientists and the inaugural SER-CAT Young Investigator Award for her work in pioneering the structural characterization of the RIO Kinases.

In 2006, she joined the faculty at UMD where she now teaches biochemistry, enzymology and X-ray crystallography and heads a research program in the structural, biochemical and biological study of ribosome biogenesis, and the development of small molecule inhibitors targeting RIO kinases. LaRonde is also a former NCI/K22 awardee and NSF CAREER award recipient. She has guided four graduate students to completion of their Ph.D.s, mentors seven students currently, and has trained over 35 undergraduates in research. She is also the faculty advisor for the UMD chapter of NOBCChE (National Organization for the Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers).