Husband and wife research duo join Texas A&M, advance novel protein engineering research to combat cancer

September 24, 2014

The age-old saying still holds true: Two heads are better than one, at least for the newest research team at Texas A&M. Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Ph.D., a molecular immunologist, and her husband, Raimund J. Ober, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer, have joined the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University, respectively. The duo’s move to Aggieland will allow them to continue their interdisciplinary research to generate effective therapeutics for autoimmune disorders and cancer.

Sally Ward

Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Ph.D., the newest faculty recruit for the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine

Ward, who previously held the Paul and Betty Meek-FINA Professorship in Molecular Immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is the most recent faculty recruit for the Texas A&M College of Medicine. Ober, who was previously a faculty member at the University of Texas at Dallas, has joined Texas A&M University as a professor of biomedical engineering. He also holds an appointment in the Texas A&M College of Medicine Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine.

“We look forward to carrying out our work in an academic environment that fosters and encourages interactions between researchers from different disciplines,” Ward said.

Ober has pioneered a high-end, state-of-the-art microscopy approach that enables the team to use three-dimensional viewing to understand how antibodies and tumor targets move within cells and, in turn, how the trafficking behavior can be affected by engineered alterations in protein-protein (antibody) interactions. Ultimately, the innovation allows the duo to watch protein trafficking in real time so that they can determine which engineered therapeutic antibodies are going to be most efficient in stopping a tumor from growing. With that information, Ward is leading the way with novel approaches for manipulating antibodies to specifically target cancer cells, rather than by chemotherapy that can kill both healthy cells and cancer cells.

An example of the process can be seen in the team’s development of improved, engineered antibodies to target growth factor receptors such as the HER2 protein for breast cancer therapy. By using the high-resolution, live-cell tracking approach, the duo was able to follow the movement of the marker, gaining valuable insights on the biology of breast cancer. The tracking of individual proteins represents an important means for studying cancer and other diseases at the molecular level, which is a key step in the path to curing such deadly diseases.

“The recruitment of the Ward-Ober research team is a perfect example of the marriage between science and engineering, specifically between molecular biology and device innovation,” said Brett P. Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Their move to Texas A&M will establish yet another important linkage between medicine and engineering, and the vital role such interdisciplinary collaborations play in scientific discovery.”

The Cambridge University-trained molecular biologist/biochemist and her engineering research partner also bring an impressive funding portfolio, including grants from the National Institutes of Health, Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and National Multiple Sclerosis Society; as well as multiple high-impact journal publications including: Nature, Science, PNAS, Nature Biotechnology and Nature Methods, among others.

— Holly Shive

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