Black Lab Blog Post #3 – Ramya Billur, Postdoc

January 23, 2020

I am Ramya Billur, a post-doctoral fellow in the Black lab at UPenn’s Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. I am presently investigating PARP-1 functions in DNA repair and transcriptional regulation.

Since my childhood, I would often think about how a few milligrams of drugs could effectively treat a disease. This inspired me to take up Chemistry and Genetics in my undergraduate and graduate studies. During the course of my undergraduate studies, I learned the basic concepts of Genetics and Chemistry. I always felt that there was some clue missing in the replication mechanism of the HIV virus that contributed to why it is a pandemic disease, coupled with the lack of available anti-HIV drugs, made me realize that I should focus my studies in science to help reveal the many biological mysteries out there. My fervor towards Chemistry was unappeasable and impelled me to pursue a Masters degree in Industrial Chemistry at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad (JNTUH) in India. I was actively involved in the synthesis of substituted aryl dithiocarbamic acid methyl esters, novel Aurora-A kinase inhibitors, and chalcones mediated by TFAA-H3PO4.

Further, I pursued my PhD in Chemistry at the University of Louisville under the mentorship of Dr. Muriel Maurer. My dissertation mainly focused on employing NMR, ITC, and HPLC techniques to characterize how the blood coagulation enzyme thrombin, and its precursor prothrombin, utilize ligand binding exosites to control its functions. My involvement in collaborations, as well as my attendance at various conferences and workshops, and a dire need to develop drugs for cancer treatment inspired me to specialize my career in cancer research.

Due to the strong medical significance of PARP-1 in cancer biology, and the Black lab being a leading expert in applying hydrogen deuterium exchange mass-spec (HXMS) to characterize protein structure and dynamics, I began my postdoctoral training in this lab to understand PARP-1 dynamics. The Black lab has been very helpful in teaching me various biophysical techniques. I am excited to decipher various biological mysteries and specialize my career in structural biology using a biophysics platform to impact biomedicine.