Woman working in lab

Research Labs

Research is part of the College's trifold mission of education, research, and patient care. Our research in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences is concentrated in four areas:

  • Bioorganic/Medicinal Chemistry (identification of new drug targets; rational and computer-aided drug design, synthesis, and analysis; drug metabolism; and bioorganic and molecular immunology)

  • Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology (microscale and nanoscale drug delivery systems, and ion channel physiology and pharmacology)

  • Cell Death, Injury, and Regeneration (mechanisms of drug- and disease-induced cell injury, death and regeneration; molecular and cellular toxicology; drug transport; and acute heart, kidney, liver failure and stroke)

  • Cancer Etiology and Therapeutics (mechanisms of cancer chemoprevention; inflammation; genome instability and DNA repair; and cancer therapeutic mechanism of action)

For information about graduate research training, visit Doctor of Philosophy Program Objectives and Requirements

Circular glass containers containing research specimens

Faculty Labs

James Chou, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

James Chou

James ChouOur research group aims to understand the roles that mammalian enzymes play in physiological and pathological processes utilizing unique chemical and biological tools. Our current research focuses on the biological mechanism of histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6) through chemical and biological approaches. HDAC6 is the only HDAC containing two deacetylation domains, and canonical hydroxamate HDAC6 inhibitors only target the tubulin deacetylation domain. We have discovered a highly selective and structurally unique HDAC6 inhibitor capable of inducing both acetylation tubulin and acetylated heat-shock protein 90 suggesting unique and separate substrate selectivity for each domain. Our studies have shown that it is likely each HDAC6 deacetylation domain function is independent of each other function and involved different biological pathways.

We also aim to develop synthetic analogs of vitamin K and vitamin E, and characterize their effects in mitochondria functions. We have developed synthetic analog of vitamin K capable of protecting glutamate induced toxicity in hippocampal HT-22 cells with effective concentration below 50 nM. Vitamin K2 has recently been indicated to be a key component of mitochondria electron transfer chain and it’s capable of alleviating Pink1 and Parkin non-flight phenotype in drosophila. Our vitamin K analogs also protect cells from direct tert-butyl hydroperoxide suggesting additional molecular pathways might be involved at protecting direct peroxide assaults. Our laboratory is interested in defining the key neuro- and cyto-protective mechanism(s) of vitamin K2 and its analogs through both chemical tools and biological techniques.

The ultimate goal of our laboratory is to combine both chemical and biological approaches toward discovering novel biological targets, designing/synthesizing novel compounds, and evaluating the effectiveness of the potential drug candidates in both in-vitro and relevant animal models.

PubMed Entries 


John J. Lemasters, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor & GlaxoSmithKline
Distinguished Endowed Chair in Cancer Drug Discovery

John Lemasters

John LemastersDr. Lemasters’ research interests concern the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying toxic, hypoxic and ischemia-reperfusion injury to liver and heart. His laboratory applies new techniques of laser scanning confocal and multiphoton microscopy to characterize the physiology of single living cells, including the assessment of ion homeostasis, chelatable iron, mitochondrial function, electrical potentials, oxygen and nitrogen free radical formation, membrane permeability, and other biochemical parameters during the pathogenesis of lethal cell injury. These approaches are being extended to true in vivo (intravital) imaging of cells and tissues in living animals.

Increased Ca2+, formation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and oxidation of pyridine nucleotides and glutathione promote a phenomenon called the mitochondrial permeability transition that in turn leads to mitochondrial depolarization and uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation. Studies in living cells show MPT initially induces the sequestration and lysosomal degradation of mitochondria by the process of autophagy (mitophagy). However, excess MPT induction induces both necrotic cell death and apoptosis during reperfusion injury, oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, calcium ionophore-induced toxicity, drug toxicity, exposure to tumor necrosis factor-alpha, Fas ligation, and organ preservation for transplantation surgery. Inhibitors of the MPT decrease or abolish cell killing in these models. Progression to apoptosis or necrosis after the MPT depends on the presence or absence, respectively, of ATP. Often, features of both apoptotic and necrotic cell death develop after death signals and toxic stresses. These findings offer new strategies to rescue cells and tissues from irreversible toxic and ischemic injury.

Despite a detailed understanding of their metabolism, mitochondria often behave anomalously. In particular, global suppression of mitochondrial metabolism and metabolite exchange occurs in apoptosis, ischemia and anoxia, cytopathic hypoxia of sepsis and multiple organ failure, alcoholic liver disease, aerobic glycolysis in cancer cells (Warburg effect) and unstimulated pancreatic beta cells. The lab is exploring the hypothesis that closure of voltage-dependent anion channels (VDAC) in the mitochondrial outer membrane accounts for global mitochondrial suppression consistent with a role for VDAC as a dynamic regulator, or governator, of global mitochondrial function both in health and disease.

PubMed Entries

Anna Liisa Nieminen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Anna Liisa Nieminen

The Anna Liisa Nieminen laboratory is investigating mechanisms of cell injury and cell death in various pathological settings, mostly related to cancer. Currently we are interested in treating head and neck cancers with photodynamic therapy.

PubMed Entries

Eduardo N. Maldonado, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Eduardo Maldonado

Dr. Maldonado’s laboratory studies mitochondrial metabolism in cancer, cancer bioenergetics and cellular bioenergetics in different cell types. His research program focuses on the interplay between mitochondrial metabolism and the Warburg phenotype in proliferating cells, and the regulation of mitochondrial-dependent bioenergetics in embryonic stem cells, cancer stem cells and skeletal muscle.

A main research line in his lab is the study of the regulation of voltage dependent anion channels (VDACs) located in the mitochondrial outer membrane, as global modulators of mitochondrial metabolism. He recently proposed VDAC opening as a pro-oxidant anti-Warburg switch. The discovery of free tubulin as an endogenous regulator of VDAC opening in cancer cells, led Dr. Maldonado to propose the VDAC-tubulin interaction as a pharmacological target to revert mitochondrial suppression in the Warburg phenotype. The central concept of Dr. Maldonado’s research is that VDAC opening promotes cell killing by a combination of increased oxidative metabolism, oxidative stress and reversal of the Warburg effect. Currently, Dr. Maldonado’s lab is developing small molecules to antagonize the inhibitory effect of tubulin on VDAC and also to stabilize VDAC in an open configuration. The expectation is to develop new drugs for treating liver and other types of cancer that may act as “metabolic modifiers” to be used alone, or as coadjuvants of preexisting therapies.

Overall, Dr. Maldonado’s lab combines basic science approaches including molecular biology, biochemistry and cell biology with drug development. Students, postdocs and scientists at different levels are always welcomed for collaborations, and temporary or long-term visits. Dr. Maldonado also created Mitobonds, a network fostering the worldwide exchange of scientists among labs interested in mitochondrial research.

If you want any additional information or are interested in contacting Dr. Maldonado’s lab, please send an email to maldona@musc.edu

PubMed Entries

Yuri Karl Peterson, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor

Assistant Director of Drug Discovery and Interim Director of Bioenergetics Profiling

Yuri Peterson

Dr. Peterson’s research focus is in applied pharmacologic sciences using in vitro, cell based, and in silico approaches to quantitate protein and small molecule functionality to bridge between chemical biology and pathobiology. He has experience in the experimental biology and modeling of protein-protein interactions, protein-ligand interactions, and hormone signaling. Specifically, his research efforts have included the study of arrestins, the cytoskeleton, GPCRs, heterotrimeric and monomeric G-proteins, scaffolding proteins (like RGS and AGS G-protein regulators), prenyltransferases, methyltransferases, deacetylases, kinases, lipid binding proteins, mitochondria, and endosomes. Highlight innovations from the Peterson group include the discovery and therapeutic utility (Tat-GPR) of guanine nucleotide dissociation inhibitors, software to analyze endosome kinetics (DotQuanta), the discovery of Gi-alpha suppression in the majority of ovarian cancer patients, and methodologies to optimize virtual screening for drug discovery. Dr. Peterson’s current research focus is on the application of high-content microscopy to study cellular protein kinetics and predictive bioinformatics using QSAR, pharmacophores, molecular docking, and machine learning for personalized medicine.

PubMed Entries


Ed Soltis, Ph.D.
Professor & Vice-Chair for Professional Education


Ed Soltis, Vice-Chair for Professional Education

Prior to his arrival at MUSC in 2002, Dr. Soltis research was focused primarily on the study of vascular smooth muscle physiology and its alterations in hypertension, aging and diabetes using various rodent models.  He received national and local support of his research primarily through the NIH, AHA and DREF.   He was involved for several years in the oversight and direction of a component of the MUSC College of Graduate Studies Summer Undergraduate Research Program.  He currently serves on the MUSC Research Integrity Committee as well as the University Tenure Committee.  Dr. Soltis’ current efforts are directed primarily towards teaching and educational initiatives in the College of Pharmacy.  He teaches and coordinates courses across all three didactic years of the curriculum and actively participates in various academic and educational committees. 

Patrick M. Woster, Ph.D.
Professor & South Carolina SmartState™
Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery
Director, MUSC Drug Design & Synthesis Core

Patrick Woster

Pat WosterPatrick M. Woster is Professor of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Charleston, SC, and serves as the South Carolina SmartState™ Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery at the Medical University of South Carolina. He received a B.S. in Pharmacy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1978, and a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln in 1986. Following postdoctoral work in chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1986), and in medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan (1987), he joined the faculty at Wayne State University in 1988. At Wayne State, Professor Woster taught undergraduate biochemistry and medicinal chemistry courses, graduate level courses in medicinal and bioorganic chemistry, and developed a series of web-based tutorials for students in medicinal chemistry. He was voted Teacher of the Year eight times, and received the WSU President's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1993. He was also awarded a Wayne State University Career Development Chair in 1997.

In 2011, Professor Woster moved to MUSC, where he was appointed Professor and South Carolina SmartState™ Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery. Professor Woster maintains an active research program that has been funded by several agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Association, and the pharmaceutical industry. Ongoing projects in the Woster laboratories include the synthesis of alkylpolyamines as antitumor or antiparasitic agents, synthesis of novel inhibitors of lysine-specific demethylase 1 and histone deacetylase as epigenetic modulators, solution- and solid-phase synthesis of peptide-based inhibitors of plasmepsin, synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine analogues as mechanism-based enzyme inhibitors, and synthesis of furanocoumarins as inhibitors of cytochrome P450. Dr. Woster has directed a number of Ph.D. dissertations and Master's theses, and has mentored ten postdoctoral associates. To date, he has authored more than 95 articles in peer-reviewed research journals, and more than 100 research abstracts and invited presentations. Dr. Woster has also served as a member of two NIH study sections, and on editorial boards or as a reviewer for numerous scientific journals.

Professor Woster has been a member of ACS and the Division of Medicinal Chemistry since 1979, and is also a member of the Organic Chemistry and Biological Chemistry divisions. He assumed an active service role in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry in 1994 as a member of the Membership Committee and Chair of the Electronic Communications Committee. Dr. Woster was a member of the Division Long Range Planning Committee (1998 to 2000), and organized 4 symposia for National ACS meetings. He served as Secretary and Public Relations Chair for the Division of Medicinal Chemistry from 1994 to 2010, and is currently Chair of the Division. Dr. Woster has served as an officer for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), where he is a Past Chair of the Section of Teachers of Chemistry. During 2004-2005, he was a member of the AACP Executive Board of Directors, and Chair of the Academic Sections Coordinating Committee.

PubMed Entries

Zhi Zhong, M.D., Ph.D.


Zhi Zhong

My research interests are on the mechanisms of cell injury, death and regeneration, with foci on the roles of free radicals and mitochondrial function in liver and kidney diseases, and development of novel therapeutics to prevent injury and accelerate the regeneration/repair processes. In particular, using state-of-the-art intravital confocal/multiphoton microscopy, which allows visualization of cells and organelles in live animals, as well as RNAi and molecular biological techniques in combination with a variety of animal models, isolated organ perfusion and cell culture, we are investigating the mechanisms of mitochondrial dysfunction/biogenesis, the cellular, organelle, and enzymatic resources of free radical production, and the roles of free radicals in alteration of signal transduction that subsequently affect pathogenesis and regenerative processes. We are studying hepatic and renal injury, fibrosis and regenerative processes in alcohol and drug exposure, liver and kidney transplantation, ischemia-reperfusion, obesity, and cholestasis. The overall goal of our research is to gain new insights into the mechanisms and to develop effective therapeutics to prevent and treat these hepatic and renal diseases.

PubMed Entries

Dr. Mark Hamann

Charles & Carol Cooper Endowed Chair

Mark T. HamannMark Hamann is the Charles and Carol Cooper Chair in Pharmacy Endowed SmartState Chair in the Cancer Drug Discovery Center of Economic Excellence. His team looks at the role of natural products in the discovery and development of therapeutics. It focuses on the discovery and development of new treatments for drug resistant cancer and infectious diseases from natural product prototypes. His group has identified potential new and innovative solutions to pancreatic cancer, leukemia, breast, and lung cancer as well as MRSA and depression.