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Chemist to deliver talk at National Institutes of Health

EVANSTON - Thomas O’Halloran, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in Chemistry at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will deliver a talk Oct. 19 at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the DeWitt Stetten Jr. lectures.

O’Halloran’s lecture will take place at 3 p.m. Eastern Time in the Masur Auditorium in the Clinical Center (building 10) at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.

The talk is titled “Elements of Health and Disease, Inorganic Fluxes and Metal Receptors That Control Cell Fate Decisions.”

O’Halloran also is a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

His research is focused on the fundamental ways that living cells sense, regulate and manage the chemistry of essential nutrient metals, such as copper, zinc and iron. Cellular metal imbalances may lead to diseases involving infectious agents, liver disorders and diabetes. Cellular metal fluxes are also important for mammalian reproduction. Egg and sperm undergo extraordinary changes in zinc distribution at well-defined checkpoints during development.

Using novel small molecule probes as well as single-cell X-ray fluorescence microscopy, O’Halloran’s team established that the uptake of billions of zinc atoms regulates meiotic cell cycle progression. In contrast, fertilization stimulates rapid zinc exocytosis events, collectively known as “zinc sparks,” that must occur before embryo development can proceed. These findings may one day be useful in improving in vitro fertilization methods.

In the microbial arena, O’Halloran and his colleagues observed that changes in metal ion concentrations control fundamental developmental decisions in bacteria and diseases-causing parasites. For example, spikes in copper and zinc were found to be essential for the invasion of the pathogens that cause fungal brain disease and malaria, respectively.

A live video stream of the NIH lecture will be available online.

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