PhD candidate Casey Ritts receives American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/29/2023) – Chemistry PhD candidate Casey Ritts – who’s just two weeks away from his dissertation defense – has been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Cancer Society. The award will support his research in his next role as a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Ritts, a member of the Hoye Group, came to the University of Minnesota in 2018 after completion of his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research aims to create bioactive compounds and find new and improved ways to make them. “I want to use chemical synthesis as a means to learn more about cancer etiology and to develop better chemotherapy options for cancer patients,” Ritts says.

“My goal is to use biocatalysis to synthesize small-molecule antimetabolites that can be onerous to make. De novo synthetic methods are currently limited, so a new expeditious and modular method could help both the discovery and production of these anticancer compounds. Enzymes are exceptionally good catalysts for regio- and stereoselective reactions, so we believe that they are well suited for addressing this challenge,” Ritts says as he looks ahead to learning more about this innovative means of chemical synthesis. At Caltech, he will be working with Professor Frances Arnold, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 for "the directed evolution of enzymes." 

Ritts, a California native, is looking forward to returning to his home state. “This fellowship will provide a tremendous experience that will also prepare me for my independent career. As a professor I hope to lead a translational research program focused on making and testing medicinal compounds through chemoenzymatic synthesis,” he says as he thinks about the future.

As the nation's largest private, not-for-profit source of funds for scientists studying cancer, the American Cancer Society is committed to funding basic, translational, clinical, and cancer control research now and in the future. American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowships support new investigators in research training programs to position them for independent careers in cancer research. Ritts’ award of $217,500 will support him in his postdoctoral role at Caltech for the next three years, starting in February 2024.

“I'm very grateful to the American Cancer Society for granting me this award to pursue cancer research at the molecular level,” Ritts says. “I also want to thank Prof. Arnold for the opportunity to research biocatalysis in her group, and my current advisor, Tom, who has been an exceptional mentor throughout my graduate studies.”