Hopeful new medicines, potential options to battle obesity and cutting-edge methods of studying the chemistry inside all of us—these were among the topics that drew a crowd from around the world to the small city of Bloomington. Smaller still is Indiana University’s Department of Chemistry, but IU chemists say its prestige is evident, judging by the crowd and the ability to bring international experts from around the globe—or even from down the hall—to participate in two recent events.
The Fifth Annual Watanabe Symposium in Chemical Biology drew a crowd of about 150 to focus on advancements in chemical biology that could lead to new medicines. Close on its heels was the 2014 Gill Symposium and Awards, a conference that covers a different topic within neuroscience each year.
“Indiana University is a world-renowned institute for chemical sciences,” says IU’s Linda & Jack Gill Chair of Biomolecular Sciences Dr. Richard DiMarchi. “It advertises to the external world who we are and distinguishes Indiana as a center that’s interested, active and leading in the biomedical sciences.” Listen
This year’s Watanabe Symposium in Chemical Biology was characterized by discussion about new technologies that allow chemists to dig deeper into human biology. DiMarchi describes chemical biology as the interface among chemistry, biology and human health.
“[The symposium] addressed the emergence of enabling technologies—chemical synthesis and chemical analysis of physical structure,” says DiMarchi. “At the core of biology is the need for tools to study biology. Chemistry is a requisite skillset. What we heard at this meeting was cutting-edge science in terms of preparing and studying those reagents that allow us to understand biology at a much higher level.” Listen
Both annual events fall under the leadership of DiMarchi, a chemist with an international reputation himself. He’s co-founded two startups, one of which was sold to Roche for more than $500 million. He helped commercialize six pharmaceuticals and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame to honor his discovery and development of the designer insulin Humalog. Most recently, he was one of four scientists in the world to win the 2014 Erwin-Schrödinger-Prize for his role in developing a new treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Going hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes is obesity, which was the topic for this year’s Gill Symposium. DiMarchi says the event hosted several world-renowned biologists in the field of obesity research and examined sophisticated new methods that may be able to control the disease.
“Obesity is a huge global problem. It’s an epidemic of disease with as many as a quarter of all adults globally overweight, and as much as 10 percent who are clinically obese by international standards,” says DiMarchi. “[At the symposium], we saw the early stages of drug candidates that can control obesity in a way that cannot be controlled other than by surgical means—gastric bypass surgeries and things of that nature.”
Despite the caliber of scientists and speakers at the symposiums, DiMarchi believes students are the most critical attendees. He says the events are an opportunity to recruit them to Indiana or encourage them to continue their higher education in the state. Listen
“That may be the most important thing we do,” says DiMarchi. “If you’re interested in economic growth in Indiana, it’s unbelievably important that people have a tie, an attachment, some sense of knowledge as to what Indiana represents—or we’ll continue to lose a disproportionate number of the people we want to retain to the East and West coasts.”
The symposiums also attract faculty; the current chair of the IU Department of Chemistry was recruited at one of the events several years ago. DiMarchi says, ultimately, “these are really important outreach efforts”—for the university, for recruitment and for scientific advancement.
Source: Inside Indiana Business