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Joshua Kritzer, Ph.D.

What He Brings

"Joshua is a stellar addition to the faculty," says colleague Krishna Kumar, professor of chemistry. "He brings unbridled enthusiasm, a great research program, and terrific teaching skills to the department." Kritzer was recently awarded one of the most prestigious grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health: the NIH Director's New Innovator Award, carrying $1.5 million over five years.

His Research Focus

Nontraditional drug discovery. His lab is shedding light on how protein snippets called cyclic peptides can be used to inhibit cancer and other diseases. Since these peptides are formed from amino acids, the building blocks of natural proteins, they are potentially able to target 100 percent of the human genome, in contrast to traditional drugs that can target only 10 to 20 percent.

He tricks living organisms—yeast cells, used in making bread and brewing beer—into making the peptides. "These are more than just living test tubes," he says. "These yeast cells can be engineered to die the same death as human cells in a disease such as Parkinson’s or cancer.

"We can use our technique to sort through five million yeast cells in a single week. The five million yeast cells are randomly making peptides, and only those making peptides that inhibit the disease will survive. All but a handful of the cells die, and we then look to see which peptide allowed those cells to live. In this way, we not only trick yeast into making these peptides for us, but we have the yeast tell us which ones inhibit proteins related to cancer or Parkinson's disease.

"We are especially interested in master control proteins that turn genes on and off. We seek molecules that can target these proteins, and turn cancer off."

Why Tufts

"Tufts is on the verge of being a powerhouse in science, and I am thrilled to be part of that coming-of-age.

"I cannot imagine starting my career any place else. I love, love, love it here. The small size really is an advantage for a young professor. For instance, I can cold-call a researcher at the medical school to collaborate and he or she will return the call within days, and we can have a collaboration set up within weeks.

"I have three undergrads in my lab. I wanted to be at a place that gave me the resources for a world-class research program, but I also wanted to be at a place that cared about teaching. I love teaching here. The students are so into it—they respond with alacrity to everything I give them. They rise to the challenge and ask for more."