Sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School’s Graduate Education Advancement Board, the Impact Awards recognize graduate students whose research provides special benefits to the citizens of North Carolina. That impact can be basic as well as applied. It can have a direct impact on the citizens of North Carolina (and beyond) or a more indirect impact through new knowledge or insights gained, educational, economic, health, social and cultural, or environmental effects that will be derived from the research endeavor.
Andrew Hemmert, doctoral student of Biochemistry & Biophysics is currently working on Novel Protein-Based Therapeutics for Nerve Agent Detoxification in the lab of Dr. Matthew Redinbo, Professor & Chair of Chemistry. The goal of Andy's research is to provide an array of commercial products designed to advance the state’s biotechnology industry and save the lives of North Carolina soldiers.
Nerve agent chemical weapons are some of the deadliest compounds ever created by man. The U.S. military is currently fighting two wars in regions of the world where these weapons have been used. Presently, more than 15% of the deployed troops are from units stationed in North Carolina. The current treatments for nerve agent poisoning offer only limited protection and must be administered rapidly to be effective. An ideal treatment would be an intervention capable of quickly destroying a broad range of nerve agents. Andy has developed a protein-based therapy with the enhanced ability to detoxify nerve agents, up to 10,000-fold faster than current treatments. This designed protein is considered by the U.S. military to be a promising therapy candidate for nerve agent protection. He is now developing these reagents into injectable therapeutics to protect at-risk personnel and miniaturized detectors to alert troops to the presence of specific nerve agents.
Dr. Redinbo states that "Andrew's work has the potential to enhance the survival of at-risk personnel in the event of a chemical weapons attack. Just as important, however, is the strength of his research on the basic science side of the equation. Protein design has the potential to generate a wide array of new catalytic reagents and therapeutic biologicals. Andy's results provide tremendous insight into how enzyme action can be tuned using generalizable structure-guided design principles."
For more information on the GEAB Impact Awards, visit: gradschool.unc.edu/student/awards/impact.