Ningkun Wang

Ningkun Wang

Ningkun Wang with a model of the X-ray crystallography structure of the human SIRT1 enzyme.

Exploring the effects of enzyme movement in cells

“Ever since my Ph.D. advisor introduced me to the concept that proteins are not rigid — that they move, breathe and fluctuate — I’ve been fascinated by their ever-changing properties, and the importance of those properties in regulating protein function,” says Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ningkun Wang.

Her interest led to the work she and her students presently do at SJSU: conducting research into enzymes, a subset of proteins, specifically SIRT1. Up-regulating SIRT1 in the cell can alleviate the effects of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

“Our research is in the early stages. But the data that we are collecting is giving us tantalizing hints on how different domains of SIRT1 move in response to a drug-like molecule. If we can understand how to artificially activate SIRT1 using drugs, then we have a new way to treat these diseases,” she explains.

Wang’s undergraduate and graduate students apply what they are learning in her classroom to their lab activities, and she praises their work.

“Students not only perform tasks in the lab, they also contribute intellectually to experimental design and conduct background literature research that help us gain new ideas and approach questions from different angles.”

Lab experience is also helping her students make decisions regarding what career path to follow. Several have gone on to work in the biotech industry at companies such as Intuity Medical and Arcus Biosciences. Others are continuing their studies in order to pursue science-related careers, and one of her students has been accepted to pharmacy school at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Student with agar plate

SJSU student Angelina Huynh looks for colony growth of BL21 (DE3) competent cells, a strain of E. coli, on an agar plate containing Luria broth and Ampicillin antibiotic.  

“During the master’s program, I gained a deeper understanding of complex research and technical concepts, preparing me for work in the biotech industry.”

Angelina Huynh
’20 MS Chemistry

SJSU Research Foundation 2020 Annual Report