SMD provides an educational environment in which students receive the training needed to discover and design new compounds with the capacity to modulate the function of selected biological systems, e.g., the output of a signaling pathway or the cell-fate decision between survival and death. The trainees gain a thorough understanding of the biological systems under investigation. They are trained to uncover the molecular basis of interactions with biological targets using structural, computational and biological approaches, and encouraged to apply their understanding of molecular recognition to the design and synthesis of new molecules with potentially improved biological properties. Finally, they explore the effects of these compounds on molecular and cellular processes and, where applicable, evaluate their potential therapeutic efficacy in relevant human disease models.
The training in SMD, therefore, endows emerging scientists with the theoretical and practical underpinnings to explore new research directions that encompass the fields of structural and chemical biology, experimental therapeutics and translational research. It also provides a solid basis in quantitative approaches derived from molecular theory and experiment. Both structural and chemical biology research efforts at Mount Sinai incorporate experimental and computational approaches. Structural methodologies in use include x-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, cryo-electron microscopy and single-molecule biophysics. Chemical experimentations include synthetic chemistry, molecular design, high-throughput screening, and chemical library construction. Chemical-genetic approaches include the design of mutant enzymes sensitized to inhibition by specifically engineered small molecules and the introduction of these enzymes into cells in place of the wild-type proteins, both to test effects of single-enzyme inhibition on biochemical pathway function in intact cells, and to identify protein substrates of single enzymes in complex mixtures by mass spectrometry. Computational methods include exploring the theoretical foundations of molecular interactions, virtual screening, molecular design, large-scale molecular simulations, structural predictions and homology modeling.
Examples of SMD research topics can be found in the individual SMD faculty profiles.
Students are required to participate in a Student Seminar/Journal Club and in Departmental Seminars relevant to their fields of interest. They are also expected to participate in appropriate specialized Discussion/Interest Groups organized by the training faculty. At the end of the first year, the students are expected to pass the first part of the Second Level examination. In this part, they will be expected to demonstrate general knowledge in their training area and advanced knowledge in their field of specialization. Part two of the Second Level consists of a thesis proposal and its defense. Successful passing of the Second Level examinations enables the students to conduct their doctoral research under the guidance of a qualified thesis advisor and a specialized advisory committee. The advisory committee will be selected jointly by the student and the advisor and will be approved by the steering committee. Upon completion of his/her dissertation, a student will present it in an open forum and defend it before an examining committee.