Biochemist earns Sloan Research Fellowship

By Aline McKenzie

Dr. Uttam Tambar, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, has been awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship to further his research aimed at synthesizing bioactive substances for cancer or diabetes treatment.

Dr. Uttam Tambar, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
Dr. Uttam Tambar, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry

The fellowships, awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, “seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise.” Dr. Tambar was one of 126 U.S. or Canadian researchers to receive a fellowship, which consists of $50,000 over two years.

One of the major interests of Dr. Tambar’s lab is finding ways to add nitrogen groups to hydrocarbon molecules, which are readily available from petrochemical processing. 

 “We’re interested in starting with simple, inexpensive, and abundant materials,” Dr. Tambar said. “The challenge is that we’re taking a starting material that contains nothing but carbon and hydrogen, and finding a way to selectively target just one of those bonds to attach a nitrogen atom to.

“Carbon-hydrogen bonds are very stable, and there are so many of them in the molecule; how do you activate just one of them?”

An additional challenge, he said, is that an asymmetric nitrogen-containing molecule often can be medically useful while its mirror image is toxic. In such cases, it’s important that the reaction favors the formation of the useful form, said Dr. Tambar, who also wants to develop methods to construct biologically active, complex natural products.

Dr. Steven McKnight, Chair of Biochemistry, said, “We are proud to see Uttam receiving this well-deserved recognition from the Sloan Foundation. It brings distinction on him, our Department, and our institution.”

Dr. Tambar’s lab works with several others on campus to study particular diseases. The researchers decide which biochemical reactions to target, then design and produce compounds to affect them. 

“That’s one of the great things about UT Southwestern,” Dr. Tambar said, “the ability to be involved in medicinal chemistry collaborations.”

Dr. Tambar earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 2000 and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 2006. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2009, following a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University.

Other UT Southwestern faculty members awarded Sloan fellowships in the past include Dr. Jennifer Kohler, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, 2009; Dr. Joseph Ready, Professor of Biochemistry, 2009; and Dr. Jef De Brabander, Professor of Biochemistry and in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2001.

Dr. De Brabander holds the Julie and Louis Beecherl Jr. Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. McKnight holds The Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry and the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research.

Dr. Ready is a Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research.

Dr. Tambar is a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research.

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