Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Protein Structure & Function (COBRE-PSF)

The COBRE Center in Protein Structure and Function (COBRE-PSF) at The University of Kansas conducted health-related basic research in protein structure and function. COBRE-PSF provided research support and mentoring to accelerate the career development of outstanding junior faculty researchers. It also maintained core laboratory facilities that are still available to researchers statewide. COBRE-PSF, initially established in 2002 and supported by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, ended in June 2019 after completing the three phases of the program.

COBRE PSF LogoObjectives

The objectives of the COBRE-PSF program were:

  1. To strengthen institutions’ biomedical research infrastructure through establishment of a thematic multi-disciplinary center.
  2. To continue growing a critical mass of new and continuing investigators focused on the broad theme of protein structure and function.
  3. To create, support, and strengthen core laboratories by expanding their capabilities and use.

In pursuit of developing a strong cadre of successful biomedical research faculty, COBRE-PSF provided senior faculty mentors to junior faculty participants, organized monthly research meetings, and coordinated occasional regional workshops on scientific topics. In this way we grew a durable Center that has lasting impact in the state of Kansas. During the 16 years of the program, COBRE-PSF has supported 58 junior and senior faculty investigators at our four participating universities (Kansas State University, Wichita State University, University of Kansas, and University of Kansas School of Medicine) by providing research support and a professional development program.

Core Laboratories

COBRE-PSF created and supported three core laboratories, each directed by a highly experienced PhD scientist.  These core laboratories are still operational and offering their services to investigators in Kansas and the region.


NameCOBRE PSF RoleTitle/ DeptInstitution
Robert P. HanzlikProgram DirectorProfessor, Department of Medicinal ChemistryUniversity of Kansas
Mary Lou MichaelisProgram Co-DirectorProfessor, Department of Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of Kansas
Roberto De GuzmanLeadership CommitteeProfessor, Department of Molecular BiosciencesUniversity of Kansas
P. Scott HeftyLeadership CommitteeProfessor, Department of Molecular BiosciencesUniversity of Kansas
Liskin Swint-KruseLeadership CommitteeProfessor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyUniversity of Kansas Medical Center
Cynthia BeallProgram ManagerCOBRE in Protein Structure and FunctionUniversity of Kansas
Jenny DingAccountantO'Leary Shared Service CenterUniversity of Kansas

COBRE Pilot Project Leaders were tenured or tenure-track faculty who were interested in developing a promising new line of research that incorporates a significant emphasis on protein structure and function, and that took advantage of both the interactivity among Center participants and the Center's Core Labs. Pilot Project Leaders were either junior faculty, returning COBRE Graduates, or more established faculty researchers whose participation was strengthening the center overall. These grants supported proposals of high quality in terms of originality, scientific interest, and likelihood of growing into a larger project that will be competitive for funding through the NIH R01 mechanism.

Pilot Project Directors

NameInstitutionProject TitleTime Period
Katsura AsanoKansas State UniversityMolecular basis of control of translational initiation in eukaryotes2012-13
Ryan AltmanUniversity of KansasInhibition of Bacterial Resistance Enzymes using Structure-guided Drug Design2016-17
Inhibition of Bacterial Aminoglycoside Resistance Enzymes using a Fragment-based Drug Design Approach2015-16
James BannWichita State UniversityStructure and Mechanism of CS1 Pilus Assembly2005-07
Moriah BeckWichita State UniversityRegulation of palladin structure and function2014-15
Fariba BehbodUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterRole of BCL9 in STAT3 Signaling and DCIS Invasive Progression 2015-16
Cory BerklandUniversity of KansasAntigen-drug Conjugates as Potent Antigen-specific Immunotherapies2015-16
Xue-Wen ChenUniversity of KansasComputational Proteomics: Protein Interaction Prediction2004-07
Jeremy ChienUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterStructure and function of RABL3 in paclitaxel resistance2014-15
David DavidoUniversity of KansasDetermination of Protein-Protein Interactions of the HSV-1 ICP0 C-terminal Domain2016-17
A. Sally DavisKansas State UniversityCharacterization of protease TMPRSS2 and its interaction with influenza A2016-17
Roberto de GuzmanUniversity of KansasInteractions of Salmonella Needle and Tip Proteins2008-10
Structure and Dynamics of Bacterial Needle Proteins2005-07
Eric DeedUniversity of KansasCharacterizing and developing inhibitors of proteasome assembly2017-18
David EichhornWichita State UniversitySynthesis of Model Complexes for Nitrile Hydratase2004-07
Mark FarrellUniversity of KansasTargeting viral sweet spots with lectin mediated immunotherapy2018-19
The inhibition of polysialytransferase ST8Sia II: A novel approach toward the prevention of cancer metastasis2017-18
Erika GeisbrechtKansas State UniversityMetabolic defects promote pathogenesis in a muscular dystrophy model2018-19
Revathi GovindKansas State UniversityStructure-function studies on Clostridium difficile anti-sigma factor TcdC2012-13
P. Scott HeftyUniversity of KansasStructural and functional genomics for Chlamydial hypothetical proteins2012-13
Weijun HuangUniversity of KansasStructural and Functional Studies on D52 Tumor Proteins from Humans2004-07
Wonpil ImUniversity of KansasNMR and Computational Studies of Protein Translocation in Bacterial Needles2008-10
Carey K. JohnsonUniversity of KansasUnderstanding conformational control of nitric oxide synthase activity2017-18
Tracking Nitric Oxide Synthase Conformations and Dynamics2015-16
John KaranicolasUniversity of KansasTowards Novel Inhibitors of OX40L-OX40: A Dominant Negative Approach (ARRA)2009-11
Krzysztof KuczeraUniversity of KansasFast processes in optogenetic systems: Experiments and modeling2017-18
Alexey LadokhinUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterConformational switching in diphtheria toxin translocation (T) domain: From protein folding to targeted drug delivery2017-18
Audrey LambUniversity of KansasStructural Analysis of Siderophore Biosynthesis2004-05
Jed LampeUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterDefining the Hydrophobic and Electrostatic Interactions between CYP3A and CYPb52015-16
Ping LiKansas State UniversityEngineering Human NRMT1 for its Substract Profiling2015-16
Expression and purification of an obesity-important enzyme hGOAT in E.coli2012-13
Shiguang LiuUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterIdentification of Inhibitors and Substrates of Phex2004-07
Robin MaserUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterHeterotrimeric G Protein Binding by Polycystin-1, an Atypical GPCR2015-16
Kristin MichelKansas State UniversityStructure and Target Protease of Anopheles SRPN6, an Inhibitor of Malaria Parasite Infection (ARRA)2009-11
Katie Mitchell-KochWichita State UniversityStructure-dynamics of cofactor binding in human aldose reductases2017-18
Alexander MoiseUniversity of KansasStructural Characterization of Lecithin:Retinol Acyltransferase (ARRA)2009-11
Silvia MoraKansas State UniversityProtein Interactions that Regulate Leptin Secretion2004-06
Jackob MoskovitzUniversity of KansasEffect of Methionine Substitution and Oxidation on the Structure-Function of COMT2015-16
Minae MureUniversity of KansasCrystallization and inhibitor screening of lysyl oxidase-like 22018-19
Screening of crystallization conditions of human LOXL2 and fragment library screening of its specific inhibitors2017-18
Kristi NeufeldUniversity of KansasStructure function analysis of tumor suppressor APC protein2017-18
Ho Leung NgKansas State UniversityIdentifying antimalarial drug targets2018-19
Raymond PerezUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterRational design of SPRY2-Cbl inhibitors as potential anticancer drugs2014-15
Jurgen RichtKansas State UniversityInteraction between Rift Valley Fever Virus glycoprotein and heparan sulfate2017-18
Mario RiveraUniversity of KansasA new approach to antimicrobial discovery: Design protein/protein interaction modulators to perturb bacterial iron metabolism2014-15
Dynamics and Interactions in the Release of Iron Stored in Bacterioferritin2010-12
Mechanisms of Heme Capture by the Hemophore Secreted by Pseudomonas aeruginosa2008
Raymond R.R. RowlandKansas State UniversityStructure and Nucleolar Function of SARS N Protein2004-06
Emily ScottUniversity of KansasStructure and Function of CYP17A1, a Critical Enzyme in Human Androgen Biosynthesis2010-12
Kathrin SchrickKansas State UniversityLigand-binding and structural studies of the START domain from HD-Zip proteins2016-17
Alexandre ShvartsburgWichita State UniversityCharacterization of histone proteoforms using ion mobility separations2016-17
Irina SmirnovaUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterProteomic Approach to Study Diabetic Heart Protein Posttranslational Modification2005-07
Liskin Swint-KruseUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterThe Cra-FruK complex alters regulation of central metabolism of gamma-proteobacteria2014-15
Liang TangUniversity of KansasMechanisms of Genome Packaging in DNA Viruses2010-12
Signal Transduction of Two-Component System2008-10
John TaylorUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterFragment based screen towards the development of novel PDK inhibitors2018-19
Robert UncklessUniversity of KansasA functional dissection of the maintenance genetic variation in immune genes2017-18
Michael Zhuo WangUniversity of KansasExpression and Function of CYP5122A1, an Essential Leishmanial Sterol Biosynthesis Enzyme2016-17
Christopher WardUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterDelineate the X-ray structure of CU062, a polycystin-1 ligand2018-19
Qize WeiKansas State UniversityRoles of MyoGEF and its Interacting Partners in Cell Division and Cell Signaling2005-07
Kandatege WimalasenaWichita State UniversityStructure-Activity Relationship Studies of Dopamine beta-Monooxygenase2009-12
Michael WolfeUniversity of KansasTargeting the Malarial Presenilin Homolog2017-18
Liang XuUniversity of KansasFragment based discovery of chemical probes for RNA-binding protein Musashi-22017-18
Fragment-based drug discovery for inhibitors of RNA-binding protein HuR2014-15
Asma ZaidiUniversity of KansasTrafficking of the Plasma Membrane CA2+-ATPase to Rafts2004-07
Hao ZhuUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterAtomic Structure of a Multi-Domain Redox Enzyme Ncb5or Implicated in Diseases2015-16
Wolfram ZueckertUniversity of Kansas Medical CenterStructure-function of a bacterial lipoprotein secretion chaperone2017-18

The COBRE External Advisory Committee was comprised of a group of prominent scientists.  These scientists have strong records of training and mentoring, and outstanding credentials in research in areas highly relevant to the theme of this COBRE. In addition, they have extensive experience in management of research projects and research grants, particularly NIH grants. They were all excellent advisors and scientist role models.

Most Recent Members

Gary L. GillilandDirector EmeritusStructural BiologyJanssen Biotech, Inc.
Brian MatthewsProfessor EmeritusPhysicsHoward Hughes Medical Institute, Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon
Carol B. PostProfessorMedicinal Chemistry and Molecular PharmacologyPurdue University
Stephen R. SprangProfessorDivision of Biological ScienceUniversity of Montana

Emeritus Members

Gerald CarlsonProfessor & ChairBiochemistry & Molecular BiologyUniversity of Kansas Medical Center
Kathryn R. ElyPrincipal Consultant Protein Connections
Catherine C. FenselauProfessorChemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of Maryland
Lila GieraschProfessorBiochemistry and Molecular Biology, and ChemistryUniversity of Massachusetts

Mentoring Program Components

Much of our Center's success in regard to launching junior investigators on successful career paths during the three phases of the program was attributable to our mentoring program. Each COBRE Investigator was mentored by at least one senior faculty Mentor selected on the basis of his/her experience and a genuine interest in the success of the mentee. In some cases two Mentors were appointed for a given mentee to obtain an appropriate balance between local campus knowledge and specific scientific expertise. Mentors were compensated for their effort through the Administrative Core. Each Investigator had a personal mentoring plan that was prepared in collaboration with the Mentor. The COBRE program director met with each new COBRE Investigator and his/her Mentor at the start of their program to review COBRE objectives and the elements of the individual mentoring plan for that Investigator. At that meeting each new Investigator was provided with a copy of the book "At the Helm" by Kathy Barker as one avenue of preparing him/her for the challenges they might encounter on the road ahead. Finally, the Mentor and Mentee together prepare a written mentoring progress report as part of our overall Annual Progress Report to NIH. 

Each COBRE investigator and his/her mentor met with the program director and the Leadership Committee twice annually to discuss progress in achieving their individual goals as well as the goals of the COBRE program. This was concurrent with updating their entry on the Career Progress Table that COBRE-PFS used to track progress and accomplishments of the junior investigators (i.e., formative assessment). Evidence of good progress in meeting the milestones set out in the individual mentoring plans were necessary for continued support. 

In 2014 COBRE-PSF initiated a Writing Program to strengthen the academic and proposal writing skills of faculty, with the long-term goal of improving funding rates and supporting publication. The program provided workshops on grant writing and other science writing topics and worked individually with participants on academic and professional documents. The program was launched in summer 2014 with eight faculty participants from four Kansas universities (Kansas State University, Wichita State University, University of Kansas, and University of Kansas School of Medicine).

The essence of a Center is a group of investigators with overlapping interests interacting synergistically and productively around shared facilities (i.e., Core Labs). The COBRE-PSF monthly meetings brought together all pilot project investigators, mentors, Core directors, the program director, previous COBRE graduates and others. These meetings were fundamental to the success of the COBRE. Junior (and senior) faculty shared current research progress and plans with a diverse set of engaged scientists who provided helpful criticism, technical advice, and in many cases offered assistance. These meetings also fostered the development of new collaborations among the participants, cooperation between the four participating institutions, and they contributed to the sense of a vigorous, thematic Center of Excellence. Pilot project leaders were expected to participate as fully as possible in these meetings.

In line with our goal of enhancing the overall professional development of junior faculty, COBRE investigators were asked to identify well-known scientists in their field whom they would like to get to know personally, and then work with the Administrative Core to invite them for a seminar visit. In addition to their seminar, visitors spent part of their visit meeting with COBRE participants, and with the investigator who invited them providing the investigator an extended opportunity to discuss research topics of mutual interest. Thus each hosting junior investigator had an opportunity for an individual consultation with a recognized expert in his or her field

The COBRE center has sponsored 22 regional workshops and symposia, many on topics suggested by one or more COBRE PIs. COBRE investigators benefited greatly not only from the scientific and technical perspectives of the workshop but also in terms of professional networking, and the experience of planning a larger-scale event like a regional workshop. The Great Plains Regional Annual Symposium on Protein and Biomolecular Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (GRASP NMR) meeting that was started in 2006 by a COBRE investigator is just one example of this. The GRASP NMR symposium series succeeded so well it became a free-standing annual event that is still held yearly.

List of Workshops

  • Workshop on Fragment-based Drug Discovery (June 11, 2013)
  • Biacore Workshop (June 12, 2012)
  • Teaching Workshop on Protein Mass Spectrometry (March 10, 2007)
  • Stress Proteins and Chaperones in Medicine and Biology (October 30, 2003)
  • From Cloning to Crystallization (July 14-15, 2003)
  • Analyzing Protein Interactions: A Workshop (March 11, 2003)

List of Symposia and Seminars

  • 2016 SUMO (Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier) Symposium (March 25, 2016)
  • Symposium on Protein Structure and Function (October 7-6, 2012)
  • What's Hot: Working with The University of Kansas Biomedical Core Laboratories (September 14, 2012)
  • Great Plains Regional Annual Symposium on Protein and Biomolecular NMR (held annually 2006 to present)
  • Structural Biology Center Dedication and Symposium on Protein Structure and Function (October 15-16, 2004)

Our External Advisory Committee (EAC) is comprised of four outstanding protein scientists representing both academic and industrial settings. As a group, they visited the COBRE Program annually. During these visits, our EAC members heard formal presentations of research progress from all our investigators. Time was also scheduled to allow private one-on-one meetings of COBRE investigators with one or more of our EAC members. These meetings were extremely popular with both the EAC members and our investigators. They provided an additional opportunity for junior faculty to interact with highly successful individual scientists and learn from their feedback and example.