Dr. Y. George Zheng, Professor in the College of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Department, was presented with the esteemed Lamar Dodd Creative Research Award at UGA’s annual Research Awards Banquet, held last evening at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. Dr. Zheng is the first College of Pharmacy faculty member to receive this recognition since it was established at UGA in 1999. Dr. Zheng is considered an international expert in epigenetics and chemical biology. Epigenetic processes are inheritable changes in gene expression that are not involved in a DNA sequence. These processes play important roles in transforming normal cells into malignant tumor cells. Dr. Zheng’s laboratory seeks to understand how abnormalities in chromatin modifications can profoundly affect gene expression in diseases, particularly cancers. His research program has uncovered several epigenetic biomarkers and mechanisms. His group also has developed a number of potent, small molecule compounds with novel chemotype pharmacophores that interact or interfere with oncology-crucial epigenetic enzyme targets. The drug agents that his team has discovered and designed are undergoing a series of biochemical and preclinical tests and could eventually generate a new avenue for controlling cancer development, progression, and metastasis. In Dr. Zheng’s letter of notification, Dr. Shelley Hooks, Associate Vice President in the Office of the Vice President of Research and Interim PBS Department Head, congratulated Dr. Zheng on his award. “Selection by the review committee reflects on your outstanding research accomplishments and the impact you have had on your field of study. Your scholarly contributions have significantly contributed to the outstanding reputation of UGA’s research portfolio. On behalf of the Office of the Vice President of Research, we greatly appreciate your commitment to exceptional scholarship and the impact you have had on fulfilling the research mission of UGA.” A faculty member at the College of Pharmacy since 2013, Dr. Zheng has published scores of scholarly articles and received research grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the Georgia Research Alliance. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry from Peking University in Beijing, China, and his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Miami. He did his postdoctoral training in Pharmacology from The Johns Hopkins University. When he is not teaching in the classroom or making drug discoveries in his laboratory, Dr. Zheng is a tennis player and fan. Devoted to his family, he proudly shared that his older daughter, Emily, is a “computer-geek” in college, and his younger daughter, Alice, is a sixth grader who is fascinated with the arts. Recently, he shared his thoughts regarding the development of his career and his thoughts about receiving the Lamar Dodd Creative Research Award. How did you become interested in your field of study and research? Curiosity. I regard myself a curiosity-driven scientist. Trained in chemical science, I often ask myself when I am looking at biological problems ahead: “What is the chemical basis of a disease phenotype? How can new chemistry be created and applied to address those problems?” What do you hope your research will do to improve our world and society? I hope our research findings in protein function regulation will be insightful for the biomedical field to understand molecular-level mechanisms underlying diseases, such as cancer and metabolic disorders. I also hope that the many numbers of inhibitors we have developed in the lab someday will become bedside medicines to help patients combat disease ailments. Who are your mentors? My colleagues. My PhD and Postdoc mentors certainly gave me much advice and inspiration for doing research, especially in my early years of scientific career. Nevertheless, speaking in a broader sense, I regard all the colleagues I work with to be mentors of mine. When you work on cutting-edge research, there isn’t a textbook for you to follow. Discussing with peer colleagues generates new scientific ideas, new resolutions to problems, and new collaborative opportunities. What does receiving an award like this mean to you? It means recognition for my research team and our multiple years of research endeavors. I feel self-satisfied when I reflect back on how my students and I overcame many technical barriers and challenges to make discoveries that we could not imagine in the beginning of our work. Any other comments? I would like to thank the committee who selected me for this award. We will strive to continue our research with high quality standards.Congratulations, Dr. Zheng, on this outstanding accomplishment!
UGA’s Creative Research Awards recognize established investigators whose overall scholarly body of work has had a major impact on their field of study and has established the investigator’s international reputation as a leader in the field. Specifically, the Lamar Dodd Award is named for the renowned leader of the arts at UGA for decades, who is credited with establishing the school’s reputation as one of the nation’s premiere academic art programs. Dodd’s artwork extended into the American West and even into space when he was commissioned by NASA and the Department of the Interior to creatively record numerous scientific achievements. His scientific artwork merged imagination and scientific reality. For this reason, the Lamar Dodd Award was established in 1981 in his honor.