January 20, 2017

Purdue Profiles: Emily Dykhuizen

Emily Dykhuizen Emily Dykhuizen, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons) Download image

Emily Dykhuizen, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, has always been driven to "understand and cure disease but also to discover scientific truths," she says.

Dykhuizen has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Reed College and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says being a part of MCMP is the perfect fit for her mix of disciplines and that her position at Purdue is perfect for pursuing the goals of understanding, curing and discovering.

What is the focus of your research and what do you hope to accomplish?

My lab works on understanding the regulation of chromatin, which is the word we use to describe the combination of DNA and proteins in the nucleus of the cell. The way our DNA is packaged into chromatin is important for the expression of genes, which means whether they are turned on or off, and errors in DNA packaging can lead to cancer. We study proteins that recognize chemical modifications on histones, which are the main protein component of chromatin. These histone-binding proteins are often deleted or overexpressed in cancer and we don’t really understand why. Defining how the misregulation of these proteins contributes to cancer will help us figure out ways to pharmacologically treat these cancers.

On a basic level, we hope to understand how the combinatorial assembly of protein complex subunits dictates binding specificity across the genome, and how cells use these fine-tuned approaches to sense their environment and regulate the expression of genes. On a more applied level, we hope to use this information for the development of drugs to treat cancers with very few therapeutic options.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is juggling the responsibilities of research, service, teaching, writing and mentoring, alongside my responsibilities to my family. Purdue has been a great place to be for a new faculty member with young children. Everyone I work with is understanding of the limitations involved and I have had so much support from organizations on campus designed to help us balance all these demands, such as ADVANCE, the Butler Center, and the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships. Still, it’s constantly a challenge and the only real solution for me has been to accept a certain amount of imperfection in all aspects of my life. I’m not doing the best job I could possibly do at any one particular thing, but I’m doing the best job I can do at everything, and that’s OK too. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is working with the people in my lab. I love spending time with my graduate students and employees thinking about scientific problems both big and small, and hearing their ideas and perspectives. I’ve been so lucky to have such outstanding people in my lab who constantly teach me new things. I’m living every advisor’s dream to have students smarter than them!

I also really enjoy teaching in the classroom and working with undergraduates and professional students. Teaching used to be one of my biggest fears, but as I have gotten more comfortable in the classroom I find myself striving to make each class better than the last. I still have a while before I will feel like I really have it down, but I can see improvement every year in my ability to effectively communicate with the students. It has been really rewarding to observe their intellectual growth.


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