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SOP’s Wilks Named Maryland Chemist of the Year

Presented by the Maryland Section of the American Chemical Society, award recognizes members’ outstanding achievement in the field of chemistry.

By Malissa Carroll
November 13, 2014

Angela Wilks, PhD, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, has been named the 2014 Maryland Chemist of the Year by the Maryland Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Established in 1962, this award recognizes her outstanding achievement in the field of chemistry.

“Dr. Wilks is an outstanding pharmaceutical scientist and mentor,” says Andrew Coop, PhD, professor and chair of PSC. “She is well-respected within her field, conducting research that has led to the characterization of several proteins involved in heme (an iron compound) uptake and degradation, as well as to the design of new therapeutic agents with the potential to reduce virulence by disrupting the bacterium’s iron metabolism. She is truly deserving of this award, and will be a distinguished ambassador for the ACS Maryland Section.”

Wilks received her doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Leeds in England, where her research focused on the mechanism of heme degradation. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, Wilks joined the School of Pharmacy as an assistant professor in 1998, pursuing research that employs a multidisciplinary approach, including bacterial genetics, metabolomics, and biochemical and biophysical approaches, to examine the mechanisms by which bacterial pathogens acquire and utilize heme as an iron source.

She was the first researcher to identify and characterize bacterial heme oxygenase – an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of heme – and demonstrate that the enzyme must be present for disease to develop in the bacterium’s host. “It is my hope that the research I have worked on will help other scientists overcome the challenges associated with developing effective antibiotics,” she says.

In addition to pursuing her research, Wilks maintains a passion for mentoring graduate students in the School’s PSC PhD Program. Seven students have graduated from the program under her mentorship, with an additional four students currently working in her laboratory. “Dr. Wilks’ graduate students have received numerous awards both during their time in the program and throughout their careers after graduation, which further demonstrates the quality and impact of her mentorship,” says Coop.

But for Wilks, being able to mentor students in the PSC PhD Program is just an opportunity for her to “pay it forward.”

“I have had the opportunity to work with a number of great collaborators and colleagues over the years,” says Wilks. “I am especially grateful for my long-term collaboration with Dr. Thomas Poulos at the University of California, Irvine, who has been a great friend and mentor to me throughout my career. The research on which we have collaborated provided the foundation for a translational research program in antibacterial drug development in which I am involved with many of my colleagues at the School of Pharmacy.”

Wilks will receive her award at the ACS Maryland Section’s Maryland Chemist Award Dinner on Dec. 10.

“Being named the 2014 Maryland Chemist of the Year award reminds me how fortunate I am to work in such a collegial department and pursue the research that I am most passionate about,” says Wilks. “However, this award is not only mine to claim. I have worked with many intelligent and hardworking graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in my lab over the years, and they deserve this award just as much as I do.”

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