The opportunity to work with students both in the classroom and in the lab is really important to me.

Rebecca Fagan Switzer

Professor Rebecca Fagan Switzer, chemistry, specializes in enzymology, the branch of biochemistry that focuses on the biological activity of enzymes. "At Bucknell, my lab studies DNA methyltransferases, enzymes that add a methyl group to specific bases in our DNA," she says.

Many disease states, such as cancer, are linked to changes in DNA methylation, Switzer says. These changes cause gene expression within the cells to go awry. She and her students will study the enzymes responsible for DNA methylation to discover more about how these proteins function and how methylation can be stopped or, better yet, reversed. "We are trying to understand how the activity of the enzymes is regulated as well as discover and characterize new enzyme inhibitors," she says. "These inhibitors could potentially be used as cancer therapeutics."

Although Switzer's research focuses on cancer, it may prove relevant to certain autoimmune diseases and psychiatric disorders that are also linked to changes in DNA methylation.

Switzer's postdoctoral research examined inhibitor discovery. "We could screen hundreds of compounds at a time thanks to liquid-handling robotics," she says. "That allowed us to examine tens of thousands of potential inhibitors. Here we are able to study a given compound in depth and understand how it is able to inhibit the enzyme. I'm looking forward to that. Those details are so important."

The opportunity to teach and conduct research at Bucknell appealed to Switzer, who teaches chemistry and biochemistry to students majoring in chemistry, biology and engineering. "I'm excited to interact with the students," she says. "The opportunity to work with students both in the classroom and in the lab is really important to me."

Posted Sept. 29, 2014