Inventing a New Way to Process Proteins

Bookmark and Share

Jul. 30, 2013

Inventing a New Way to Process Proteins

Robert A. Welch Foundation supports Trinity University chemistry professor

By Susie P. Gonzalez

Adam UrbachAdam Urbach, chemistry professor

SAN ANTONIO - Working alongside chemistry professor Adam Urbach for three years and not having an "answer key" when she encountered challenging questions spurred recent Trinity University graduate Leigh Anna Logsdon to grow as a student, a scientist, and a person.

Based on the results of their research in 2012, Urbach sought and received a $225,000 grant from the Houston-based Robert A. Welch Foundation to continue work on a new technique he and Logsdon invented to process polypeptides.

For Logsdon, who graduated summa cum laude in May with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and who will start medical school this fall, the collaboration meant being listed as the lead author on two articles published in the Journal of American Chemical Society and as an inventor on a patent application.

As a "beginning scientist," Logsdon said Urbach showed her how to "dig deeply" into scientific inquiry, thinking carefully about each step, including writing protocols for laboratory experiments, critically analyzing results, and learning from mistakes. "Dr. Urbach helped me learn that no matter what the result, it helps us learn something."

Urbach is the type of scientist who explained his invented process with this description: "This thing is like Pac-Man."

Start by imagining a linear chain of amino acids (that is, a polypeptide) that is being chewed up by an enzyme, which successively removes one amino acid at a time from the end of the chain. The Urbach group has developed a way to block the enzyme at a specific site in the peptide chain and protect the chain from further digestion using an artificial receptor.

Adam Urbach Protease Graphic

This process can help researchers study the properties of proteins and may allow for the delivery of a peptide-based drug. "Otherwise, certain peptide-based medications, when delivered orally, would be digested as food before making it to your blood," Urbach said. "This is a way to protect the peptide."

This work builds on earlier research Urbach conducted on protein recognition in relation to diabetes and insulin.

Urbach said that Logsdon, who will attend the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, was an exceptional student who took advantage of the many opportunities at Trinity, including conducting research in the state-of-the-art facilities in the Center for Sciences and Innovation.

Not only was she published twice in a prestigious chemistry journal, she presented her work at two national conferences of the American Chemical Society. "Whether it's learning concepts, analyzing results, or articulating science, you do it all during undergraduate research at Trinity," she said, adding that skills she learned at Trinity are certain to enhance her medical school training. "Although I may never use isothermal titration calorimetry again in my life, I will plan protocols, run tests, analyze results, and articulate science. I know that Trinity provided me with a solid foundation."

Check out Leigh Anna Logsdon on Chemistry in the Trinity in 60 Seconds video series.

Susie P. Gonzalez is director of public and media relations at Trinity University and can be reached at