Searle grant funds biophysicist’s amyloid protein research

By Deborah Wormser

Dr. Kendra Frederick
Dr. Kendra Frederick

Dr. Kendra Frederick, Assistant Professor of Biophysics at UT Southwestern, has been recognized as a 2017 Searle Scholar and awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to support her research on proteins implicated in neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Frederick, who is studying the structure determination of amyloid proteins inside living cells, was one of 15 investigators selected from 196 applications nationwide. The Searle Scholars Program supports high-risk, high-reward scientific research.

“The Searle Scholars Program recognizes some of the most promising young biomedical scientists in the country. I am honored to be one of the researchers selected for such a distinction,” said Dr. Frederick, who has additional appointments in the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology.

Her expertise is in how a new technology for solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy – called dynamic nuclear polarization – can be applied to biological samples for structural studies of proteins in cells. She is first author on an article in Cell that describes this approach and includes the finding that cellular environments can influence protein structure.

“Kendra is applying cutting-edge NMR technologies, available in only a handful of laboratories worldwide, to a critical problem in biology and human health – how proteins assemble into amyloid fibers,” said Dr. Michael Rosen, Chair of Biophysics, Professor of Biochemistry, and a member of the Green Center. “Her work will help us to better understand normal cell function, and how those processes go awry in neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.”

Using NMR spectroscopy, protein chemistry, and yeast genetics, Dr. Frederick aims to determine the structures, dynamics, and energetics of protein folding in complex physiological environments such as those involved in the initiation and progression of human disease.

Dr. Frederick joined UT Southwestern in its Endowed Scholars Class of 2015-2019 following postdoctoral work at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in biochemistry and French language and literature and then earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in protein structure, function, and engineering from the University of Paris-Sud.

The Searle Scholars Program is funded through grants from the family trusts to The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation, the private operating foundation that manages the institutional philanthropy of the Searle family. Dr. Frederick is the 12th faculty member at UT Southwestern to be honored with this award.

Dr. Frederick is a Lupe Murchison Foundation Scholar in Medical Research.

Dr. Rosen, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, holds the Mar Nell and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry.