Dr. Hendrik Luesch wins Doctoral Dissertation Mentoring Award; mentees showcase research at Gordon Research Conference on Marine Natural Products

Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., a professor and chair of medicinal chemistry and the Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development, was named the 2019-20 Doctoral Dissertation Mentoring award winner for the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. The award recognizes excellence, innovation and effectiveness in mentoring doctoral students throughout their dissertation project. For Luesch, the award adds to an impressive resume of research and teaching awards earned during his 15 years at UF.

Luesch at Gordon Research Conference
Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D. was joined by UF College of Pharmacy alumni who trained under him and current graduate students at the Gordon Research Conference on Marine Natural Products.

The breadth and depth of natural products research in the University of Florida College of Pharmacy and Luesch’s role as a mentor was on display at the Gordon Research Conference, or GRC, on Marine Natural Products and the Gordon Research Seminar, or GRS, in Ventura, California, Feb. 22-28. The GRC was themed, “Discovery, Functional Development and Enabling Technologies of Marine Natural Products,” and attracted 200 participants from all areas of marine natural products sciences, including isolation and structure determination, chemical synthesis, biosynthetic engineering, chemical biology and chemical ecology. The GRS occurred prior to the main conference and provided a unique forum for graduate students, postdocs and other junior scientists in the field to collaborate and share their work.

Alumni and graduate students in the UF College of Pharmacy who worked under Luesch’s mentorship came from across the world and contributed in many different ways to the events’ success and impacting the field worldwide.

  • Lilibeth Salvador-Reyes, Ph.D., ’13, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, was an invited keynote speaker for the GRS. She was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Scientist award in the field of Pharmaceutical Sciences by the National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines.
  • Fatma Al-Awadhi, M.S., ’14, and Ph.D., ’17, an assistant professor in the department of pharmaceutical chemistry at Kuwait University, presented a poster on her exploration of marine natural products in the Middle East. Last year, she organized the 7th Kuwait International Pharmacy Conference, making her mark on the region.
  • Jason Kwan, Ph.D., ’10, an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin, brought his own students to the meeting. He recently received a National Institutes of Health MIRA R35 award and a National Science Foundation CAREER award.
  • David Brumley, a third-year graduate student in the UF College of Pharmacy, presented a poster at the GRC and was selected to give an oral presentation at the GRS on the discovery, synthesis and bioactivity of a novel marine product with anticancer activity.
  • Lobna Elsadek, a second-year graduate student in the UF College of Pharmacy, presented a poster on the identification of targets of an antifungal cytotoxin through genomic and targeted approaches at both meetings.
  • Ranjala Ratnayake, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and assistant director of the Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development in the UF College of Pharmacy, presented on her discovery of a marine drug candidate and its mechanism of action.
  • Luesch presented on his multidimensional profiling platform to unlock the mechanisms and therapeutic potential of marine natural products.

A highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Paul J. Scheuer Award in Marine Natural Products Chemistry lifetime achievement award to marine chemical ecologist and long-time Luesch collaborator Valerie Paul, Ph.D., from the Smithsonian Marine Station. Among other successes, Paul and Luesch identified a novel genus of cyanobacteria producing a marine natural product that provided the basis for three recent drug approvals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The team has identified several other cyanobacteria from which Luesch identified novel bioactive marine natural products that he is developing into drug candidates for various diseases.

The Gordon Research Conference on Marine Natural Products is the largest and most prestigious specialized event and meets every two years. The conference attracts early career researchers and established leaders from across the world.

Luesch was elected to serve as vice chair for the GRC in 2022, and he will serve as chair in 2024.