Xie q&a

At the forefront of science and innovation

Photo credit: TJ Lievonen
By A&S News

Photo credit: TJ Lievonen

At the forefront of science and innovation

By A&S News
Assistant Professor Jia Xie, the first junior professorship hire in the Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science, discusses his research and new role at the U.

Jia Xie, an assistant professor in the Chemistry Department, is the first junior professorship hire for the Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science (FICMS), now under construction.

Xie, who earned his Ph.D. in biomedical science at the University of Connecticut and received his postdoctoral training at the Scripps Research Institute in California in the Department of Molecular Biology, looks forward to expanding his research in biotherapeutics and chemical biology at the FICMS.

Expected to open in the summer of 2022, the FICMS is the first of a planned group of interdisciplinary research centers that will operate under the umbrella of the Frost Institutes for Science and Engineering. Made possible by a transformational $100 million gift from longtime University supporters Phillip and Patricia Frost, the Frost Institutes are designed to elevate the University’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) endeavors and address the globe’s most complex problems through interdisciplinary research.

Given that chemistry and molecular science is at the center of the life, physical, and applied sciences, and particularly at the center of new discoveries as seen with the emerging vaccines for COVID-19, Xie will be one of many world-class chemists and molecular sciences on the ground floor of new discoveries at the U. Here he discusses his research and his new role with A&S News.

A&S News: As a junior professorship faculty member for the new Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science, what do you expect to achieve?

Dr. Xie: My personal interest and research are mainly focused on biotherapeutics and chemical biology, which is a branch of molecular science. The Frost Institute provides an exceptional opportunity to foster advanced sciences, create new paths for scientific discovery and research, and promote UM as the hemispheric hub for science and innovation. I look forward to participating in the growth of FICMS and contributing to the research community that will be built and nurtured around the new institute.

Additionally, as a member of both the Chemistry Department and the new Frost institute, I hope to play a significant role in bridging the research interaction between both entities and enabling mutually beneficial collaborations among the talented chemists and researchers here at UM.

A&S News: Can you tell us about your field of study?

Dr. Xie: My previous research was related to therapeutic antibody discovery and using chemistry methods to investigate biological mechanisms. In a recent study, we edited cell surfaces with chemically modified sugar to mimic variations among people and discovered that the modification intensifies the infection by some influenza virus mutants. Some of the mutants are resistant to certain known broadly neutralizing antibodies. The discovery implies people’s different susceptibility to flu infection may have something to do with their physiology, outside of immunity. For example, the different glycosylation on airway cell surfaces.

A&S News: What do you see as key strengths for the Chemistry Department and the new Frost Institute? 

Dr. Xie: The Chemistry Department provides strong classroom and laboratory instruction for undergraduate and graduate students. I was very impressed with the faculty members in the department and their field of knowledge in chemistry, from experimental to computational. As the Frost Institute is also about chemistry and other related fields, it builds upon the strength of the department and their talented faculty. The institute is going to be the hub for fostering interdisciplinary studies, and I believe collaboration between different labs with unique expertise will be the common case within and around the institute.

A&S News: Who are your mentors? 

Dr. Xie: At the Scripps Research Institute, I worked with Dr. Richard Lerner for many years. Dr. Lerner is a visionary and exceptional mentor for me. His rigorous research, adventurous scientific ideas, and incisive insights all deeply impacted me in positive ways.

A&S News: What unique skills and assets will you bring to the Frost Institute?

Dr. Xie: This is all very new and exciting for me. In terms of research and collaborative opportunities of study, I hope I can help to set up a platform for functional macro biomolecule screening that allows us to discover the candidates for potential therapeutic purposes. Also, I hope to work closely with other scientists and researchers in the department to strengthen research in chemical biology. The new Frost Institute will propel UM as a hub of STEM research. To be here during this momentous time is truly an honor.