Senior Research Associate
239 Plant Science
I am a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of Plant Biology and Molecular Biology and Genetics. I am a medicinal chemist with ample experience in the field of chemical prospecting for drug development relevant to tropical infectious diseases, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer. My Laboratory of Natural Products and Medicinal Chemistry has focused on the chemistry and pharmacology of plants used for medicinal purposes from around the world, and I am a pioneer in the chemistry and pharmacology of plants used by primates for self-medication in east Africa and the chemical ecology of plants used by lower animals and arthropods for defense. I have received awards from the Phytochemical Society of North America for seminal work on the ecological role and morphogenetic effect of natural products on insects, such as, the anti-juvenile hormone effect of Chrysanthemum coronarium (Asteraceae). I conduct research on the metabolic regulation of lipid biosynthesis in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, investigating the genetic regulation of its lipidome with emphasis on genes implicated in dyslipidemias such as high cholesterol. I strive to combine knowledge of their biosynthetic regulation and function with the development of potential therapies for the treatment of some of these diseases.
My Laboratory of Natural Products and Medicinal Chemistry studies the changes in cell lipid biochemistry as a result of alterations in lipid metabolism due to genetic dysfunctionality resulting from cellular stress or gene mutations. These studies can help elucidate of pathologic conditions that result in dyslipidemias. Furthermore, I am interested in inositol containing lipids, such as PI3P and PI4P, which are important secondary messengers in cells whose abnormal genetic regulation can lead to forms of cancer; therefore, I study PI3P and PI4P metabolism and the genes that regulate their production. These metabolites are also implicated in disease such as diabetes, HIV-1 infection, and manic-depressive syndrome; therefore, I hope to combine knowledge of their biosynthetic regulation and function with the development of potential therapies for the treatment of some of these diseases. My laboratory also has special interest in the assessment of the therapeutic potential of natural products in the epigenetic treatment of cancer as it has been shown that small molecules can alter patterns of gene expression. I have an interest in small molecules that inhibit histone deacetylases whose dysfunctionality can lead to expression of oncogenes and repression of tumor suppressor genes; we have found coumarins and alkylamides in citrus and pepper species that act as such. Another interest is the search for more efficient AChE inhibitors that can be used in more effective treatment of memory and cognitive function loss in Alzheimer Disease by upregulation of acetylcholine levels in the Alzheimer brain; we have isolated glucosinolates in brassica species that are AChE enzyme inhibitors. And, of particular interest is the investigation of plants cited in the Native American and Amerindian ethnobotany as folk remedies in the treatment of Diabetes, a disease that has its highest incidence in these particular ethnic groups; we are currently studying Peruvian and Iroquois species used for this purpose taking a mechanism-based approach for alfa-glucosidase inhibitors to block dietary polysaccharide and starch contribution to blood sugar increase.
Teaching provides me with the opportunity to constantly review concepts, continuously ponder their significance, and multiply the perspectives of my subjects of study. Above all, it grants me the rewarding experience of sharing knowledge with others. The strength of my instruction lays in the multidisciplinary approach I take to subjects to show that concepts and topics transcend the traditional boundaries delineated for seemingly unrelated fields, this augments their importance and underlines the relevance of their teaching. While at Cornell, I have developed curriculum for the plant sciences and taught courses for postdocs, graduates and undergraduates. Such curses emphasize plant chemistry, chemotaxonomy, economic botany, ethnobotany, plant secondary metabolism, chemical prospecting, and methodological tools in natural products chemistry and pharmacology screens for lead molecules in drug development. I believe that my capacity to teach the function, principles and evolutionary foundation of plant secondary metabolism with a medicinal perspective and emphasis is an exciting and innovative experience.