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Jhih-Wei Chu joins chemical engineering department.

Jhih-Wei Chu is joining the chemical engineering faculty after postdoctoral work at the University of Utah.

Jhih-Wei Chu is starting this fall as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Chu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and received his B.S. in chemical engineering at the National Taiwan University in Taipei. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering at MIT with Bernhardt Trout and Daniel Wang, and he comes to Berkeley from a postdoctoral position with Greg Voth at the University of Utah.

Chu specializes in the multiscale modeling of biomolecules. “I think my general area of study is similar to that of ChemE professors Harvey Blanch and Doug Clark,” says Chu, “but my work is more theoretical and computational. I see it as complementing the current work on biomolecules in the department.”

At Utah, Chu studied actin filaments, helical polymers of the actin protein that help cells maintain their shape and allow them to move. Actin is also one of the main components of muscle cells, and it helps give them their mechanical properties.

In an article in the September 13, 2005, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Chu and Voth describe how they used a computational method, molecular dynamic simulation, to explore the behavior of actins. These computational techniques are useful to examine detailed structures at resolutions beyond the capabilities of electron microscopy or x-ray diffraction.

Chu’s research at MIT focused on the oxidation of methionine, one of two sulfur-containing amino acids that form the basis of complex proteins. When the methionine residues in a protein-based pharmaceutical are oxidized, the drug can become deactivated.

Chu examined this problem in a medication called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), a genetically engineered growth factor that stimulates the production of white blood cells. G-CSF is often given to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to counteract the destruction of these cells and to improve immune response.

To protect G-CSF and other protein pharmaceuticals against oxidation, stabilizers

are added to the medications. “But formulating the additives is difficult,” says Chu, “because we don’t fully understand how the oxidation happens. My research is about helping to overcome these problems in developing new protein-based medicines.”

While at MIT, Chu also consulted for Alkermes, Inc. in Cambridge, MA. Founded in 1987 by researchers from MIT and the Scripps Research Institute of San Diego, CA, Alkermes develops new medicines based on sophisticated drug delivery technologies. These include extended-release injectable drugs and inhaled formulations. Chu helped Alkermes develop techniques to enhance the injectability of microsphere drug delivery systems.

Although primarily attracted to Berkeley by the reputation of the department and the campus, Chu is also looking forward to the Bay Area’s climate and cultural amenities. Berkeley is also relatively close to Taipei, where Chu returns to visit his family.

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