Ross Wang and Students in lab

Rongsheng (Ross) Wang, assistant professor of chemistry, has earned a five-year, $700,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop medicinal chemistry-aided imaging techniques of cell components that could lead to faster diagnosis of diseases such as cancer and inflammatory disorders.


His research targets histone deacetylases (HDACs), a family of enzymes that have crucial roles in numerous biological processes including regulating the expression and activity of numerous proteins involved in the initiation and progression of both cancer and inflammatory disorders.


"We are utilizing a medicinal chemistry approach to invent chemical imaging agents that can selectively recognize targeted HDACs," said Wang. "This class of imaging probes will provide us with unique cell biology information regarding the location of the histone deacetylases in the cell and distribution of the enzymes in and between organelles, components that help keep the cell alive and functioning."


Changes to the organelle could play a big role in identifying those diseases and the progression of the disease in the organelles, explained Wang. "These probes could be ideal diagnostic tools for human diseases such as cancer, inflammation, aged neuron degeneration, and auto-immune disorders."


The imaging probes can be used for real-time cellular screening of additional small molecule inhibitors that can inhibit the HDACs' enzyme activity," said Wang, whose previous research projects involved studying breast and prostate cancer. "Alternatively, without imaging units, they by themselves could be potentially therapeutics too if they can inhibit the HDACs in the long run."


There is also a strong educational and STEM outreach plan associated with the award. "We'll work with students from schools near Temple, demonstrating the use of fluorescent small molecule probes," said Wang, who, since joining the Department of Chemistry faculty in 2016, has hosted several science events for students from local high schools in Philadelphia. "We really like impacting and educating high school students."


The Faculty Career Development (CAREER) Program is one of the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. 


Wang's lab was also among nine winning teams in the final year of Scialog: Chemical Machinery of the Cell, launched in 2018 to spark collaborative research that could advance fundamental understanding of chemical machinery and reactions in the intact cell. Short for "science + dialog," Scialog is funded by Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.