Dr. Corey Hopkins is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. In his lab, Corey and his team use chemistry to answer the biological questions behind diseases and how to treat them. They make drug-like compounds and test them in biological systems to investigate whether particular proteins are involved in the disease process. They are particularly interested in diseases with unmet medical needs, including neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. When he’s not working, Corey likes to spend his time home-brewing beer, golfing, and lately he has started learning how to play the guitar. He earned his B.S. in Chemistry from Indiana University and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Afterwards, he held industry positions at Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, and then Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals. He served on the faculty at Vanderbilt University before joining the faculty at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2016. He has been awarded UNMC’s Excellence in Mentoring Award, Most Promising Invention Award, and Distinguished Scientist Award. In this interview, he shares more about his life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:31)
When he’s not working, Corey likes to spend his time home-brewing beer, golfing, and lately he has started learning how to play the guitar.
The Scientific Side (3:45)
In his lab, Corey and his team use chemistry to answer the biological questions behind diseases and how to treat them. They make drug-like compounds and test them in biological systems to investigate whether particular proteins are involved in the disease process. They are particularly interested in diseases with unmet medical needs, including neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Dose of Motivation (5:09)
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John Maxwell
“The manager administers; the leader innovates.” – Warren Bennis
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:33)
While he didn’t have the iconic childhood chemistry set, Corey became interested in science relatively early. In high school, he took both chemistry and physics courses, and he wasn’t sure which path to pursue. Corey’s physics teacher steered him towards chemistry since he thought there would be better job prospects in that field. From his very first chemistry class as an undergraduate student, Corey knew chemistry was for him. He was focused on getting a job in the chemicals industry after graduating, and continuing his education in graduate school wasn’t really on Corey’s radar. However, the mentors he met at his first job encouraged him to look into graduate school opportunities and helped him identify a good fit. After getting his PhD, Corey returned to industry. His transition to academia several years later was a major turning point in his career, and he has really enjoyed his role in academia.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (17:47)
As medicinal chemists trying to make new drug molecules, Corey and his colleagues experience failure frequently. They have been working on a project in Parkinson’s disease to better understand and target proteins that may be able to slow down the rate of neurodegeneration. They have had success in this project showing that they can reverse a common side effect called dyskinesia that is caused by a medication commonly used to manage Parkinson’s disease symptoms. However, there was a period where he really struggled to get funding for this area of research. After wrapping up research on one grant, Corey spent years trying to secure funding for the next steps of this project to no avail. He was on the verge of giving up when he connected with a colleague in Sweden who is a renowned expert in the field, and they were able to work together to get this work funded.
A Shining Success! (19:52)
Corey and his team are working on an interesting project in colorectal cancer that involves a unique approach to drug development. Rather than leveraging the traditional lock and key mechanism of combining drug molecules with receptors, in this new approach, the compound of interest laches on to a relevant protein and breaks the protein down. This approach is called PROteolysis TArgeting Chimera (PROTAC). They had made some new compounds, and one of Corey’s students recently started working with these PROTAC compounds. They just got some exciting new data a few weeks ago, and the compounds are incredibly active and have shown to be effective in degrading a protein relevant in colorectal cancer. They are looking forward to moving this project into an animal model as a next step. This is a particularly thrilling success because they weren’t sure if the project would work, and the recent results have bolstered everyone’s mood and confidence.
Book Recommendations (22:25)
Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains by Helen Thomson
Most Treasured Travel (24:41)
About eight years ago, Corey had an opportunity to travel to Scotland to attend a scientific conference. He gave a presentation there about his research and presided over one of the symposium sessions, and it was a great experience scientifically. In addition, Corey’s wife was able to join him on the trip, and they had a wonderful time before and after the conference exploring Edinburgh and touring some of the fantastic sights there. This was Corey’s first international trip, and it was personally meaningful because his wife is Scottish by birth and he also has Scottish heritage.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (27:23)
Corey has started a tradition in his research group where he gets a tattoo on his arm of each new drug molecule created by his trainees that is successful in an animal model. So far, he has three of these “success tattoos”. In one case, the new compound reduced substance-abuse disorder for heroin and cocaine. Another compound created by a lab member reversed chronic kidney disease. The third compound reversed pain effectively in an animal model. Each of these molecules means something to him personally, and it is really exciting to be able to make new molecules that no one else has made before.
Advice For Us All (32:12)
Remember that the people who you interact with are not you. In the context of mentoring, what works for you will not necessarily work for all of the people you mentor. You have to tailor mentor-mentee relationships to the needs, motivations, and desired outcomes of each individual. Also, you don’t have to keep doing whatever you started out doing. Always look out for new opportunities, even if they aren’t what you expect. Keep an open mind and try to go to presentations or have conversations with people outside of your area of expertise. Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to other people to answer questions and get advice.
Corey’s research is focused on understanding the biological processes that lead to disease. His expertise is in medicinal chemistry and his group discovers novel drug-like compounds that are used to help understand and treat diseases. He has interests in Parkinson’s disease, pain, and cancer (among others). Recently his group has published novel discoveries that have been advanced into animal models of neurodegeneration. He has a passion for drug discovery, teaching and mentoring graduate students. Outside of work, Corey has interests ranging from biking to home-brewing (and recently in tattoos) as well as spending time with his wife, two daughters and three French bulldogs.
Support for this episode of People Behind the Science was provided by LAMPIRE Biological Laboratories.