Huarui Cui awarded Department's 2021 Best Thesis Award, Honorable Mention for University's Best Dissertation Award

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/14/2022)—Huarui Cui, Ph.D., has received the Department of Chemistry’s Best Thesis Award for 2021. Cui earned her doctorate working with Professor Will Pomerantz, researching BET bromodomain chemical probes, especially for BRD4.

The Best Thesis Award is given annually to one recent graduate from the department to recognize their outstanding doctoral thesis research. The awardee receives an honorarium and their name is added to a department-held plaque recognizing annual winners of this award. The recipient is also nominated for the University-level Best Dissertation Award. Cui was awarded Honorable Mention by the University committee.

Described as a “beautiful body of work using her skill sets in both chemical biology and medicinal chemistry to address an important biomedical problem” by advisor Pomerantz, Cui’s thesis, titled “Development of Small Molecule Chemical Probes for BRD4,” primarily focused on developing selective inhibitors for this important anticancer and anti-inflammatory drug target. While the exciting therapeutic potential of BRD4 has led to the initiation of over 30 clinical trials, the non-selective nature of these inhibitors showed significant clinical toxicity and undesirable side-effects, slowing their development. Her work, using a combination of novel structural biology methods and medicinal chemistry, addressed the selectivity problem of these inhibitors and discovered one of the first selective inhibitors with strong affinity against BRD4. These inhibitors have been used to study the function of BRD4 and exhibited biological activities both in cellular experiments and now in in vivo models of disease.

Currently, Cui is a postdoctoral associate working with Professor Angela Koehler at MIT. Her research there involves the design, synthesis, and biological characterization of small molecule modulators and probes for studying post-translational control of oncogenic transcription factors, such MYC and MYB. With funding from the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, she is screening for probes to a variety of Ubiquitin-Proteasome System (UPS) family members implicated in regulating the stability of these transcription factors.

In the future, Cui hopes to translate in vitro findings towards developing therapeutic strategies for diseases lacking effective treatment options.