Yaya Wang, left, works with Professor Donald Spratt, right, at a bench in his lab

Graduate research takes aim at deadly diseases

January 17, 2017

A doctoral candidate in biochemistry and molecular biology, Yaya Wang spends hours each day conducting research experiments at Clark University. She’s a steady, calm presence in a laboratory bustling with undergraduate students, working alongside Donald Spratt, Carl J. and Anna Carlson Endowed Chair and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the Gustaf H. Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Like Spratt and the undergraduate students she mentors, Wang studies the protein ubiquitin, present in most cells in humans and other living organisms. Currently, Wang is examining how certain enzymes, HECT E3 ubiquitin ligases, control ubiquitin’s interactions with other proteins.

“I work on two E3 ubiquitin ligases called HERC5 and HERC6 E3,” she says. “Studies have shown that HERC5 has antiviral activities, suppressing HIV, HPV, Ebola and influenza viral replication and proliferation. Knowing the structure of E3 ligases enables us to better understand the antiviral mechanisms of these two enzymes; thus, it can provide the fundamental basis for the therapeutic strategies of E3 ligase-related disease treatments.”

Although her research is complex, her goal is simple: to produce findings that could make an impact on global public health.

“There are numerous diseases — such as HIV, HPV and Ebola — threatening people’s lives every day,” she says. “If our research on HERC5 and HERC6 can help to find a cure for one of those diseases, it will save millions of lives across the world.”

Wang’s previous research examined the biochemical activities of a type of hemoglobin found in both the marine bacterium Rosoebacter denitrificans and in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Her findings could lead to an alternative strategy to treat the life-threatening disease.

Wang came to Clark from her home province of Shanxi, China, because she wanted a smaller research institution where she could get to know other students. In particular, she has appreciated the broad diversity of her fellow students’ backgrounds and experiences.

“I have met students from various countries and have had the chance to learn about their cultures, religion, food, faiths and lifestyles,” says Wang, who has an undergraduate degree in bioengineering from China Agricultural University. “I feel lucky to have the opportunity to know and to talk to people from different countries.”

She’s been inspired by Spratt, her adviser. “His valuable guidance and continuous support of my Ph.D study has helped me overcome the difficulties that I have encountered during my graduate school career. He is my role model for a scientist, adviser and teacher.”

After graduating this summer, Wang hopes to find a post-doctoral or faculty position where she can both teach and conduct research.

“I think my time at Clark will make me more competitive and more prepared,” she says.

At top, Yaya Wang works in the lab of Donald Spratt, Carl J. and Anna Carlson Endowed Chair and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the Gustaf H. Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

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