Shu awarded funding for infrared fluorescent protein research

Xiaokun Shu, PhD, a faculty member in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, has been awarded $165,000 in first-year funding under the UCSF Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research (PBBR) effective October 1, 2011.

The PBBR, which receives its primary support from the Sandler Foundation, focuses on potentially high-impact projects “that are substantially more creative or risky than projects supported by the NIH and other traditional funding sources.”

Shu earned the funding award under the program’s Technologies, Methodologies and Cores category for his proposal: Design and engineering of long-wavelength highly fluorescent proteins for whole animal imaging.

The fluorescent labeling of proteins inside cells, to track their movements, interactions and transformations, has been a Nobel-recognized boon to studying biological systems. But until recently the technique was limited to in vitro (i.e. petri dish) cell studies.

In 2009, as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Nobel Laureate Roger Tsien at UCSD, Shu lead a team that engineered fluorescent proteins designed to be activated by deep red light and emit near-infrared light.

Because of their long wavelengths, those types of light readily penetrate body tissues allowing in vivo imaging of proteins in cells and tissues of living lab animals. Initially, such infrared-fluorescent proteins would be applicable to whole-body imaging to study cancer and stem cell biology.

Shu, who joined the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical chemistry last September, will use the potentially two-year PBBR support to develop infrared fluorescent proteins hundreds of times brighter than the initial ones.


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, PharmD Degree Program, QBC, CCB, Biophysics

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.