Mande Holford, PhD


Mandë Holford is an Associate Professor in Chemistry at CUNY- Hunter College and Graduate Center, with a scientific appointment at the American Museum of Natural History. Her dual appointments reflect her traditional training in synthetic peptide chemistry and her subsequent interest in natural product development from marine organisms. Dr. Holford’s research is at the forefront of Chemical and Biological Diversity – pioneering an evolutionarily integrated approach to the discovery of novel neuropeptides for drug development.

Research: Research projects in the Holford lab applies inventive tools from chemistry and biology to: (1) discover disulfide-rich peptide neurotoxins from venomous snails, (2) develop high-throughput methods for characterizing structure-function peptide interactions, and  (3) deliver novel peptide targets to their site of action for therapeutic application in pain and cancer. A learn from nature strategy is used to discover novel peptide neurotoxins from marine snails. Molecular data from phylogenetic trees are used as road maps to elucidate the lineages of marine snails that are producing peptide neurotoxins to suppress their prey. The correlation between anatomical function and molecular character in venomous marine snails was first identified by the Holford group and has provided a tool for effectively improving the time and cost required to screen new snail lineages. This evolutionary approach to drug discovery and development is an emerging field called Venomics and Dr. Holford’s work in this area was recently profiled in a 2014 edition of Chemical and Engineering (C&E) News. Holford and students conducted a four week expedition to Kavieng, Papua New Guinea where she collected over 200 specimens for future research activity in collaboration with colleagues from the Paris Museum of Natural History. The Holford group is pursuing a peptide drug delivery method for delivering snail neurotoxins, which do not cross the blood brain barrier, to their site of action using viral capsids as nanocontainers. By using viral capsids, this project leverages the natural abilities for the nanocontainers to self-assembly, and years of protein conjugation chemistry to modify the exterior and interior of the capsid to serve as a vessel for shuttling snail neuropeptides across the blood brain barrier. The research pursued in the Holford lab is extremely interdisciplinary combining the fields of chemical ecology, peptide chemistry and drug development.

Education & Policy: Dr. Holford has a sustained and active involvement in science education and advancing the public understanding of science. She has developed several educational outreach programs for high school students at informal education venues such as the American Museum of Natural History and the Utah Museum of Natural History. She is co-founder of a digital education company and, an NSF project focused on increasing the retention of women in science. In the area of International Science Policy, she is a AAAS Science & Technology Fellow, an inaugural member of the World Academy of Young Scientist (WAYS), and served on the Advisory Committee for Term Members of the Council on Foreign Relations, she has been profiled in featured in policy journal SciDevNet.

Awards and Honors: Dr. Holford’s research efforts have received recent recognition and she was elected as a New Champion Young Scientist at the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin, China in September. She has received funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Alfred P. Sloan and Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundations to support her independent research. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. In 2011 she was awarded an NSF CAREER Award, and named a 21st Century Chemist in the NBC-Learn, Chemistry Now series.

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Holford Laboratory at CUNY Hunter College