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Biochemistry PhD Alum Offers Advice to Prospective Students

By Nicole Carrera

Published on April 3, 2020

Nicholas CopeNicolas Cope PhD’20 (biochemistry) credits USciences graduate programs for helping to advance his career and for giving him experience in the field even before graduation. He notes “The department of chemistry and biochemistry is very collaborative which allows you to find experience outside of your expertise.” 

Dr. Cope, a scientist in the protein sciences group at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson said he gained experience with protein purification in the labs at USciences during his PhD career. 

Like students at any level, Dr. Cope was nervous when first beginning his doctorate degree. “I still remember sitting in the introductory graduate school course thinking ‘what did I get myself into?,’” he said. He offers words of encouragement to prospective students advising them, “Just breathe! USciences accepted you into the program because they saw something in you.”

While progressing through the research and coursework that comprises the biochemistry PhD, Dr. Cope said he leaned on peers for support.

“Having a good support system within the program and outside is key to your success,” he said. Dr. Cope said  that the dedication of USciences faculty members also plays a major role in student success “I really enjoyed heterocyclic with Dr. (Elisabetta) Fasella because she really went above and beyond to make sure you learned the information.” 

Dr. Cope was recently awarded the 2020 Graduate Student Award of Merit during the 199th Founders’ Day Ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, for his work with cancer research and numerous publications of his findings. Notably, his research on the V600E mutation of BRAF proteins led to a publication in ChemBioChem Journal. The paper, titled “Biochemical Characterization of Intact Oncogenic BRAFV600E Together with Molecular Dynamics Simulations Provide Insight into the Activation and Inhibition Mechanisms of RAF Kinases.”, was named the journal’s Very Important Paper and was featured on the cover page.

The V600E BRAF mutation frequently occurs in melanoma and other forms of cancer. Dr. Cope and his colleagues reported that their research shows successful purification of active, full length BRAF V600E from mammalian cells for in vitro experiments. This, along with other results from the study, are providing new insights into the biochemical properties of BRAF V600E proteins in both normal and disease conditions. 

While he is working at Janssen now, Dr. Cope plans to continue doing lab work in the future. He aspires to focus on cancer and other disease research, and to move up in the ranks of lab workers to a senior position. 

Categories: News, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biochemistry, Alumni, Profile