|Vol. 17, No. 39||Aug. 20, 1998|
William Murray (left) of Johnson & Johnson with John Koh
Koh's investigations of hormone receptor proteins were recognized July 14 when he became one of approximately 12 scientists this year to be awarded a Focused Giving Program grant from Johnson & Johnson, the world's most comprehensive and broadly based manufacturer of healthcare products and related services for the consumer, pharmaceutical and professional markets. Focused Giving is a competitive, worldwide program, aimed at stimulating basic, biomedical research in the academic environment.
Koh's $150,000, three-year award is part of a "global philanthropy strategy" that "recognizes outstanding, basic research" and "promotes scientific innovation" through the Focused Giving Grant program, reported Susan Greger, a director in the Johnson & Johnson corporate Office of Science and Technology.
Established in 1886 as the first producer of germ-free medical products, J&J was impressed by Koh's proposal because it combined medicinal chemistry, molecular biology and synthetic organic chemistry, explained William Murray, senior director of drug discovery chemistry with the company. And, Murray said, "We felt it was a good idea to support work at an institution like Delaware, which has both a very strong undergraduate program and solid graduate-level research initiatives."
Koh works with proteins located inside the nucleus of living cells, which act as receptors for hormone molecules. Just as a key fits into a lock, he explained, hormones bind with these receptor proteins. The resulting key-in-lock protein structure latches onto "hormone response elements"-specific sequences of the genetic blueprinting material, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Neighboring proteins then conspire to trigger the expression of a target gene, Koh said.
Human hormones play a crucial role in regulating growth and controlling the functions of tissues and organs. The effects of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone or thyroid hormone are all mediated by nuclear hormone receptor proteins, which interact directly with DNA, Koh said. Synthetic hormones and receptor proteins may, therefore, someday prove useful for treating a variety of diseases, according to Koh.
"Ultimately, this approach could be used to regulate the expression of virtually any gene in the cell by simply regulating the concentration or presence of synthetic hormones in the bloodstream," he explained.
Johnson & Johnson employs some 191,000 individuals in 180 separate companies, Greger said. The company funds a broad range of biomedical research to support its pharmaceutical, diagnostics, medical products and consumer businesses. "We're not just Band-Aids and baby powder," Greger said. Johnson & Johnson products and services range from surgical supplies and artificial hips to medicines, she said. "With more than 10,000 scientists conducting research programs in our laboratories around the world, we are truly a technology-driven company."
A native of Downingtown, Pa., Koh earned his M.S. and his Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University in 1990 and 1994, respectively, after completing undergraduate work at West Chester University. Before joining the UD faculty, he served as a postdoctoral fellow for the American Cancer Society, conducting research at the University of California at Berkeley.
"We're very fortunate at UD to have outstanding young faculty members like John Koh," Steven Brown, departmental chairperson, said.
"We also benefit from the University's long-standing ties with top corporate partners. We're grateful for J & J's support, and we hope this award marks the beginning of many more collaborations with the company."
Photo by Jack Buxbaum