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Personalized Medicine Through Therapeutic Proteins

With a research award, assistant professor Robert Pantazes is researching therapeutic proteins aimed at personalizing medicine to an individual's needs.

By Cassie Montgomery

For Robert Pantazes, the decision to devote his research to therapeutic proteins was made for two reasons.

Professionally, more effective techniques for designing proteins will improve the efficiency and safety of the chemical engineering industry. However, his particular focus on optimizing therapeutic proteins is more personal. 

“I’m focused on therapeutic proteins in particular because over the course of my life, I’ve had a number of complex health challenges and I’ve been fortunate to always be able to work with really talented doctors who helped me figure out the solutions to those challenges,” he said. “Not everyone has access to the same resources and opportunities that I did and so health has always been a major interest.”

Pantazes, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, is furthering his research in therapeutic proteins with a $1.75 million Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The award is designed to support Pantazes’ research lab at Auburn University, where he and his graduate students are developing and experimentally testing computational methods to design therapeutic proteins. 

Specifically, Pantazes is interested in personalizing medicine to meet an individual person’s needs. This approach, making something to meet a need when a need is identified, differs from the method more commonly used where a therapeutic is prescribed from a pre-selected set of options. There are many situations where personalized medicine could benefit a patient, including when treating a cancer patient or fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria. 

“Over the next 10 years, what I would like to do is get to a point where we can reliably and consistently design a protein to bind to whatever we want it to bind to,” he said. “The goal of my career is to develop an effective computational method to design proteins for whatever purpose someone might want to use them for.”