Interview with Peter A. Beal
Peter A. Beal, Ph.D.,
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Davis
How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
My interests in therapeutic oligonucleotides can be traced back to my time as an undergraduate student at the University of North Dakota. The professor in my organic chemistry class was Donald Bergstrom (who later moved to Purdue University). Bergstrom was developing new reactions to modify nucleosides and oligonucleotides and I was fortunate to be able to carry out undergraduate research in his lab. I have had an interest in nucleic acids and therapeutic oligonucleotides ever since!
Who were your early mentors? What is special about the type of research/work you’ve done?
Based my growing interest in this topic, I chose to carry out my graduate studies in Peter Dervan’s lab at Caltech where I worked on triple helix-forming oligonucleotides. As a postdoc I ventured into the study of proteins with Stuart Schreiber at Harvard and was involved in early studies on the function of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). While my postdoctoral work was not directly focused on nucleic acids, we thought a lot about protein kinases that control translation in that project. This sparked my interest in the RNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) and other proteins that bind duplex RNA like the RNA editing adenosine deaminases (ADARs) and, later, Ago2. Now my research group in the Department of Chemistry at UC Davis uses a variety of approaches, including synthesis of nucleoside analogs and modified oligonucleotides, to study and control these very interesting proteins. These efforts have led to insight in how oligonucleotides can be modified to improve properties important for efficient and selective RNA interference and directed RNA editing.
How did you become involved in OTS? Why do you continue to support the OTS?
My involvement in the OTS stems from my participation in the outstanding national meetings. I have been both a poster presenter and invited speaker at the OTS national meeting. I feel it’s important to support the OTS as this society continues to hold these meetings and provide various awards for researchers in academics and industry engaged in the study of therapeutic oligonucleotides. This is an incredibly exciting time for this field given the recent successes in the development and FDA approval of oligo drugs and the new pathways being exploited using oligonucleotides (like RNA editing!).
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I’m not directing projects in my lab, I spend time with my wife, Sheila David, who is also a nucleic acid chemist, and our two daughters Surina and Maya.
Any other fun facts/tidbits you’d like us to know?
I am also an enthusiastic fisherman and you can often find me fishing the rivers and bays in Northern California on a wooden boat built by father in 1957 that I recently restored.