On Nov. 17, UNL chemist David Hage stepped before a large group of his peers to accept recognition for a research career that has spanned more than 25 years.
The next day, nearly 4,000 miles and an ocean away, his postdoctoral advisee received kudos for a promising start to her own.
Hage accepted the 2015 Award for Outstanding Achievements in Separation Science at the Eastern Analytical Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey. The award honored Hage’s efforts to advance techniques that include high-performance affinity chromatography, which uses biological agents such as antibodies and proteins to analyze and separate chemical compounds.
His work has helped isolate drugs, hormones and other compounds from complex samples at extremely fast rates. This has allowed Hage’s research group to characterize the behavior of pharmaceutical drugs in individual patients, including the extent to which drugs bind with proteins in those contending with diabetes and other diseases.
That research group includes Xiwei “Emmi” Zheng, who earned her doctorate under Hage’s guidance earlier this year and has since worked as a postdoctoral fellow in his lab. Zheng spent Nov. 18-20 at the European Bioanalytical Forum’s annual symposium in Barcelona, Spain, where she received the 2015 Young Investigator Award from the peer-reviewed journal Bioanalysis.
Zheng earned the award over finalists from the University of California, Harvard Medical School, the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Washington.
“It was a surprise to me,” Zheng said. “I even double-checked the notification email to make sure that I was reading it correctly. All of the other finalists had very strong backgrounds. I feel so fortunate to have received the honor.”
Hage, who nominated Zheng for the award, was less surprised by the outcome.
“Emmi is a hard-working young scientist who has been extremely productive in her research,” said Hage, UNL’s Hewett University Professor of Chemistry. “I knew she was quite deserving of this award and was glad to see that her peers in the research community … had also reached this decision.”
Zheng’s research has likewise focused on describing interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and blood-based proteins, which largely determine how the body absorbs and metabolizes the drugs.
While at UNL, Zheng has developed a novel technique that substantially reduces the amount of time and sample volumes needed to examine these interactions. The new approach simultaneously measures several drug-protein dynamics that previously required separate techniques to analyze, allowing researchers to determine the bloodstream’s ratio of protein-bound and unbound drugs. The latter form represents the portion that can be absorbed by the body, making this information critical to the development of effective and even individualized drugs.
Zheng credited Hage’s combination of patience, flexibility and creativity with helping her achieve so much so early in her career.
“Dr. Hage has a strong professional background and has always come up with great ideas that give me a good direction to start my research,” Zheng said. “He is also open to new ideas for experiments from his students.
“I am very grateful to be his student and to have been able to work under his guidance.”