Antiviral mold research grows into endowed chair honor

July 19, 2016

Fisher College assistant professor includes two undergrads in high-level science

TU Assistant Chemistry Professor Keith Reber is working with two undergrad Honors students on what could become an antiviral medication compound.
TU Assistant Chemistry Professor Keith Reber is working with two undergrad Honors students on what could become an antiviral medication compound.

If you like penicillin, you’ll love what TU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Keith Reber is working on with two of his students.

Reber has just been named the new Jess & Mildred Fisher Endowed Professor of Chemistry. The honor will help fund his research into Cladosporium sphaerospermum, a type of mold that expresses an organic chemical that holds promise as an antiviral medication.

It’s hard to study the viability of this organic chemical compound as a medication because there isn’t much of it available. Reber is working on research that will produce larger amounts of the compound synthetically for evaluation as a medication, particularly against the H1N1 virus, better known as “swine flu.”

“I am very honored to have been chosen as the Jess & Mildred Fisher Endowed Professor of Chemistry,” said Reber. “In particular, I am excited that this award will help to support the college’s mission of providing meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students.”

Reber is working with two Honors College seniors, James Mease and Hannah Burdge. Both are chemistry majors; Mease wants to go to pharmacy school, while Burdge will pursue a graduate degree in organic synthesis. The students, who could not be reached for comment, plan to base their Honors theses on this work.

The research from Reber and the students will be used in Reber’s collaboration with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly’s Open Innovation Drug Discovery program. The program invites scientists from outside the company to submit work that may lead to a partnered advance in drug development.

The Fisher Endowed Chair is intended for Fisher College of Science and Mathematics professors who incorporate high quality research opportunities into undergraduate learning. Selected faculty are early in their professorial careers in physical and biological sciences. Appointed by the college’s dean, the professors serve a three-year term.

“Keith Reber is a talented teacher-scholar who integrates his research specialty with his teaching and mentorship of undergraduate students,” Fisher College Dean David Vanko said. “The Fisher Endowment was originally set up to encourage and support this student-focused model.”

Reber joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry in August 2014 after earning his Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry from Princeton University in 2012. In the intervening years, he was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California at San Diego.