Drug Discovery Chemistry 2024 Poster Competition Winner

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Lisa Boatner, a fifth-year graduate student in the Backus/Houk research groups, is one of two students to win the poster competition at the Drug Discovery Chemistry Conference in San Diego on April 1-4, 2024.

The winners were chosen by a panel of industry judges based on the visual clarity of their poster, the clarity and engagement of their explanation, as well as other criteria such as the clarity of the abstract, novelty of the approach, and technological advances or scientific implications of the work presented.

The Drug Discovery Chemistry (DDC) conference, organized by the Cambridge Innovation Institute, is a conference for medicinal and biophysical chemists working in pharma, biotech, and academia.

“Hearing which questions scientists in the field are asking and learning about their approaches to finding answers was particularly insightful, especially as a current graduate student,” Boatner said. “Even though not all the techniques discussed were directly related to my Ph.D. research, the exposure to new thought processes was fascinating and prompted me to think differently than I had when I first arrived at DDC.”

Lisa Boatner (center) with her award, conference director, Anjani Shah, and one of the poster competition judges, Matthew Marx.

The identification of functional and druggable cysteines is a central challenge of functional biology and drug development. Towards addressing this challenge, Boatner’s research leverages mass spectrometry-based cysteine chemoproteomics with novel computational tools to decipher structure-activity relationships from high-throughput experimentation. Lisa’s award-winning poster, titled “Unraveling Cysteine Reactivity for Therapeutic Targeting by Integrating Chemoproteomics and Computational Sciences,” showcased pivotal computational advancements. These include, the MSCpDAA Suite for automation, CysDB – a SQL database with an interactive web interface, and graph-based structural models. These tools facilitate the quantification of hit compounds with heightened selectivity and the identification of proteoform-specific therapeutic targets.

Before joining the UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate program, Boatner earned her B.S. in Computational Biology and a B.S.A. in Chemistry, with minors in computer science and business from The University of Texas at Austin. She joined the groups of Professor Keriann Backus and Distinguished Research Professor Kendall Houk in 2019. Throughout Lisa’s graduate journey at UCLA, she has worked at the forefront of interdisciplinary collaborations, harnessing the expertise of mentors across diverse fields such as chemistry, systems biology and structural biology. Together, they’ve developed rapid, reliable tools to comprehensively investigate the reactivity of cysteine residues towards covalent small molecules. Boatner’s work has laid the foundation for more efficient technical methodologies and enhancing our understanding of the druggable cysteinome, offering new opportunities in drug discovery and protein research, and opening pathways for novel therapeutic interventions.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.