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FRANZ Katherine, Duke University, USA

A mouthful of metallopeptides: Bioinorganic studies of antimicrobial histatin salivary peptides


Katherine J. Franz is the Alexander F. Hehmeyer Professor and Department Chair of Chemistry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA. As an undergraduate she conducted research with Prof. James Loehlin at Wellesley College and Dr. Richard Fish at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. She obtained her PhD in inorganic chemistry with Prof. Stephen J. Lippard at MIT, and completed an NIH postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. Barbara Imperiali, also at MIT. Since 2003, Kathy and her research team at Duke have worked to elucidate the structural and functional consequences of metal ion coordination in biological systems, both by endogenous species and by synthetic molecules of their own design.

Prof. Franz’s research program in bioinorganic chemistry addresses questions related to how cells manage nutrient and toxic metals, and how this information can be used to find vulnerabilities and opportunities for chemical intervention against microbial infection, cancer and other diseases. Metal ions are required micronutrients for essential life processes, yet can be harmful depending on context. Prof. Franz and her research team pioneered the design, synthesis, and evaluation of molecules that are conditionally activated to alter their metal-binding properties to manipulate endogenous metal-trafficking processes for therapeutic benefit. Of her many awards, she is most proud of those received for graduate student mentoring, diversity, and encouraging women in the chemical sciences. Prof. Franz has mentored over 40 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars, and more than 50 undergraduate student researchers. In her current role as Department Chair, she has implemented and championed best practices for inclusive excellence to cultivate a positive departmental culture of diverse scientists and community members.