Biophysical Chemist Arne Gericke to Head WPI's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Gericke's research on lipid-mediated protein functions may lead to new diagnostics techniques and treatments for a broad range of diseases, including cancer
July 25, 2011

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) announced today that Arne Gericke, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Biomedical Sciences at Kent State University, will join the university on Aug. 1 as head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Gericke, a biophysical chemist, studies proteins whose functions are mediated by lipids, work that may point toward new ways to diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases, including cancer.

"As a faculty leader who understands the value of teaching and research in the academic enterprise, Arne Gericke will provide great leadership for our Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and the interdisciplinary programs associated with it," said Karen Kashmanian Oates, Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences at WPI. "He is also a distinguished scholar who will help expand and enrich our research capabilities and enhance our national reputation. WPI is fortunate to have him as a member of our faculty."

Gericke received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Hamburg in Germany and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biophysical chemistry at Rutgers University. He then spent three years as a senior research assistant with the Max Planck Group for Liquid Crystals within the Institute for Physical Chemistry at the University of Halle in Germany before joining the faculty at Kent State, where he has served as graduate program coordinator in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and an honors college faculty member.

Funded by more than $6.1 million in awards from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies, Gericke's research has resulted in nearly 50 publications in refereed journals and 45 published conference proceedings and abstracts. He has also delivered more than 30 invited talks in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan, and was recently appointed to the editorial advisory board of the journal Chemistry and Physics of Lipids. He studies proteins in cell membranes whose functions are mediated by their interactions with lipids. These protein-lipid interactions play critical roles in what are known as signal induction events, which trigger distinct physiological responses inside the cell.

Mutations in cell membrane-associated proteins can disrupt these signaling pathways, leading to a broad range of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. To better understand these complex systems, Gericke uses a broad range of microscopic, spectroscopic, and other biophysical techniques to study the molecular structure, spatial distribution, and interactions of proteins and lipids. He is currently searching for clues to how mutations in certain proteins disrupt the lipid-mediated signaling pathways. In other work, he is using infrared and Raman spectroscopic imaging methods to study healthy and diseased tissues. This work could lead to new diagnostic techniques and the potential to identify very early signs of disease.

"My work is highly interdisciplinary," he said, "and I have been impressed with the cross-disciplinary nature of research and teaching at WPI, particularly within the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. At WPI, engineering disciplines interface with the sciences, including chemistry and biochemistry, which is a major advantage for translating basic interdisciplinary research into products that benefit society. And in WPI's project-based academic program, students explore science and engineering in a societal context, which prepares them exceptionally well for their future employment. I am very excited about joining this unique and high-quality institution."