A Conversation with Dr. Christopher am Ende: Celebrating 20 Years of Beckman Scholars
Then: 2003 Beckman Scholars Program Award Recipient, University of Delaware
Now: Principal Scientist, Chemical Biology and PET Synthesis Lead, Internal Medicine and Medicinal Chemistry, Pfizer, Inc.
AMBF: Prior to college, were you curious about a career in science?
CAE: Yes, I have always been interested in how things work and would constantly be taking things apart. I was also curious about all things biology and animal related and initially considered pursuing a career as a veterinarian.
AMBF: What exposure did you have to knowing what research in a laboratory would be like?
CAE: In high school, I was fortunate to be the student member of a panel set up to explore the creation of a biotechnology class to be taught at the schools in my area. This allowed me to meet scientists at several local companies and tour their laboratory space. Learning about their research was an extremely exciting experience for me.
AMBF: When you heard about the Beckman Scholar opportunity, what inspired you to apply?
CAE: I was already working as an undergraduate researcher in the Neal Zondlo group at the University of Delaware during my sophomore year when I learned about the opportunity to be a Beckman Scholar. I was extremely interested in the opportunity because it would allow me to continue my research throughout the summer, rather than get the typical summer job. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have great mentors, Neal Zondlo and Douglass Taber, which saw some potential in me and encouraged me to assemble a research proposal and apply to the program.
AMBF: What was your research focused on? What were the results?
CAE: My research was focused on designing lanthanide binding peptides based on the 25 amino acid Zif268 zinc finger motif. Utilizing circular dichroism (CD), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and fluorescence spectroscopy, we were able to characterize the extent of lanthanide binding. Additionally, because of the diverse chemical properties of lanthanides, these small lanthanide binding metalloproteins have the potential for imaging applications and as new catalyst scaffolds. We published this work in the manuscript: Design of Lanthanide Fingers: Compact Lanthanide-Binding Metalloproteins, ChemBioChem (2010), 11, 1738 – 1747.
AMBF: What was the most memorable part about working with your mentor or working in the laboratory?
CAE: The most exciting part of working in the laboratory is the excitement that comes from performing an experiment or making a molecule that no one has ever done or made before. It is tremendously rewarding and exciting to see an idea on paper come to life!
AMBF: How did the experience change your thinking about science and conducting research?
CAE: It revealed to me how exciting research can be!
AMBF: Where did you go after graduation and where are you now?
CAE: After graduation, I pursued graduate studies at Stony Brook University working with Professor Peter J. Tonge developing long residence time inhibitors of InhA, the enoyl reductase in M. tuberculosis. After completion of an M.S. in Chemistry, I began my career in the Neuroscience Medicinal Chemistry group at Pfizer in Groton, CT. In this role, I contributed to several projects across the portfolio, helping to advance a clinical candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Concurrent with my work at Pfizer, I earned my Ph.D. at Stony Brook University under the direction of Kathlyn A. Parker, completing the first total synthesis of the natural product bisabosqual A. I am currently the Chemical Biology and PET synthesis laboratory head in the Internal Medicine Group at Pfizer.
AMBF: Did you continue doing scientific research?
CAE: Yes, I currently manage a team of medicinal chemists focused on drug discovery and chemical biology efforts in the Internal Medicine group at Pfizer Inc. in Groton, CT.
AMBF: What effect did the Beckman Scholar experience have on your career?
CAE: The Beckman Scholar program was the start of my research career. It afforded me the opportunity to dedicate a large portion of my time as an undergraduate toward laboratory research because of the generous grants that come along with being a Beckman Scholar. Furthermore, traveling to the Beckman Scholars Symposium in Irvine, CA, opened my eyes to many of the different research paths that I could pursue, helping me to decide on a career as a medicinal chemist.
AMBF: Do you have any advice for undergraduates considering a research career?
CAE: Don’t be afraid to follow your interests and change what you thought was going to be your career direction. Sometimes you’ll find the research will take you down an unexpected path and open your eyes to new career directions that you hadn’t previously considered.
AMBF: Did you meet Dr. Beckman in person, and if so, what was most memorable about meeting him?
CAE: Unfortunately, I was never able to meet Dr. Beckman in person.
AMBF: Any final thoughts?
CAE: Being a part of the Beckman Scholars programs was a transformative experience for me. It cemented my interested and excitement to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry and equipped me with the skills to succeed in this endeavor. I am forever grateful for the experience that being a Beckman Scholar afforded me!