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April 2011 Issue

Andrew Herr, PhD
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Focus on Science: Andrew Herr, PhD

Published April 2011

Focus on Science is a column highlighting basic scientists at the University of Cincinnati and their latest research. To suggest a basic scientist to be featured, please email

Andrew Herr, PhD, is a professor of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology and a structural biology expert. He received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical chemistry from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and his PhD in molecular biophysics from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

He completed postdoctoral fellowships at Washington University and California Institute of Technology, where he was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellow. He joined UC’s faculty in 2003 as an Ohio Eminent Scholar in Structural Biology. He leads a lab in the CARE/Crawley Building.

Why did you come to UC and what brought you here?
"I was recruited to UC as an Ohio Eminent Scholar to start a program in X-ray crystallography at the College of Medicine. My wife and I are originally from the Midwest, so we were pleased to come to a great institution here in Cincinnati. I really enjoy the collaborative spirit, wonderful colleagues and great facilities available here at UC.”

Share a bit about your current research focus.
"My lab uses techniques of biophysical chemistry and X-ray crystallography to tease apart the molecular details of how proteins work.

One part of my lab works on immune-type receptors and antibodies implicated in autoimmune disease and thrombosis. The other group studies bacterial pathogenesis, in particular the molecular basis for biofilm formation.

Biofilms are communities of bacteria that grow on a surface and secrete a slimy matrix; the bacteria within the biofilm are highly resistant to antibiotic treatment or immune responses.”

What implications might your research have on patient care?
"Staph bacteria are responsible for some really terrible hospital-acquired infections, especially when biofilms are involved.

For example, if Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria form biofilms on implanted medical devices, this results in recurrent, hard-to-treat, antibiotic-resistant infections.

We have found that zinc ions are critical for intercellular adhesion in these biofilms; a family of cell-surface bacterial proteins requires the zinc in order to self-assemble and hold the cells together in a growing biofilm.

Removal of zinc by use of various chelators [compounds that combine with metals] can completely inhibit the formation of Staph biofilms. We are working on bringing this discovery to the clinic to help prevent hospital-acquired, biofilm-related infections.”

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your hobbies and interests?

"Most of my free time is spent with my family—we have two boys, ages 9 and 3. We do a lot of Lego building, reading, playing ball and discussing science, dinosaurs and ‘Star Wars.’ We’re active in our church, and I enjoy digital photography and reading medieval literature in my spare time.”

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