Researcher teaches emerging field of proteomics
“Curiosity drives me,” says Yetrib Hathout, an analytical chemist and professor at Binghamton University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“I have always been curious about science, physics, math, everything,” Hathout says. “When I was young, science was almost like a hobby for me, and when you get that feeling, that’s when you excel.”
Boundless curiosity and an aptitude for science propelled Hathout from high school in his native Morocco into a fellowship at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, as well as a PhD in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology.
Hathout’s doctoral training in mass spectrometry studies of steroid synthesis pathways in adrenocortical cells paved the way for a post-doctoral fellowship in 1994 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he characterized the interaction of drugs with proteins using mass spectrometry (an analytical technique used to identify the chemical compounds in a biological sample). He then became a research scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, developing mass spectrometry methods for rapid detection and identification of microorganisms as well as proteomics methods for studying the resistance mechanisms of breast cancer cells to chemotherapy.
“The proteome is the complement to the genome,” Hathout explains. “Proteomics is the global analysis of all the proteins in a given cell, tissue or organism at a certain time and under certain conditions.” In the development and design of new drugs, proteins are often the targets for drug action.
“In a number of incurable diseases, you have to first understand the mechanisms by which the disease is progressing in order to combat it,” he says. “One way to do that is to define the causative defect. Even if it is a genetic defect, it will translate at the end into a protein defect. Fixing the protein defect is much easier and safer than fixing the gene.”
In 2004, Hathout joined the Center of Genetic Medicine Research, Children’s Research Institute of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., where he worked with clinicians and scientists to develop proteomics and mass spectrometry methods to study pediatric diseases such as leukodystrophy, brain tumors and muscular dystrophies. He also helped direct the center’s proteomics facility.
In addition, Hathout was an assistant, then associate, professor of pediatrics at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences and spearheaded a biomarker development program for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other muscle diseases. His goal was to define noninvasive serum and urine biomarkers — measurable substances in blood or urine whose presence or absence is indicative of some phenomenon — to monitor disease progression and response to therapies for these diseases.
For many years Hathout had been collaborating with Kanneboyina Nagaraju and Eric Hoffman on muscle-disease research. When those two accepted positions at Binghamton’s new pharmacy school in 2016 — Nagaraju as chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Hoffman as associate dean for research — Hathout decided to join them.
The pharmacy school’s emphasis on biomedical research and drug-development programs were key factors in Hathout’s decision. “The chance to develop a new school and work with a new team with new ideas attracted me,” he says. “Plus, I felt my expertise in analytical methods, mass spectrometry and proteomics would be a good addition.”
He was right. Hathout is one of three Empire Innovation Scholars in the pharmacy school, he taught the school’s first-ever class in fall 2017, and he has secured several grants from both federal agencies and foundations to continue his work in clinical and translational research. In addition, Hathout directs the school’s proteomics facility and will serve as director of the pharmacy school’s doctoral program, which is being developed and should be available by 2020.
“Dr. Hathout is an outstanding scientist, exceptional mentor for young people and, overall, a great human being,” Nagaraju says.
According to Hathout, the doctoral program will be unique. “We need to change the way we educate PhD students,” he says. “We need to have an interdisciplinary PhD program where the students learn different techniques from different [pharmacy] faculty and are ready for the job market.”
To accomplish this, the school has recruited faculty with varying expertise in biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences. According to Hathout, “The whole team works together as one open lab for educating next-generation pharmacists and scientists.”
Hathout also has big plans for the proteomics facility within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I want to develop a state-of-the-art proteomics facility that can help disciplines across campus and beyond,” he says.
“Mass spectrometry is advancing biomedical science at a fast pace with high specificity and precision,” Hathout adds. “At the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, we are developing cutting-edge mass spectrometry methods to aid clinical and translational research and drug-development programs with an ultimate goal to combat incurable diseases such as muscular dystrophies, neurological diseases and cancer.”