Eric Oldfield

 Eric Oldfield

Contact Information

Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois
A110 CLSL, Box 11-6
600 South Mathews Avenue
Urbana IL, 61801
Harriet A. Harlin Professor of Chemistry
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Additional Campus Affiliations


Eric Oldfield was educated at Bec School, London, and received a BSc in Chemistry from Bristol University, doing research with Jake Macmillan and Geoffrey Eglinton, and a PhD in Biophysical Chemistry from Sheffield University, with Dennis Chapman. He then worked as an EMBO Fellow at Indiana University with Adam Allerhand and was a Visiting Scientist at MIT with John Waugh. He joined the Chemistry Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1975 and is currently the Harriett A. Harlin Professor of Chemistry and a Professor in the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology. He has published over 420 papers and has been the recipient of several awards including the Royal Society of Chemistry's Meldola Medal, The Biochemical Society’s Colworth Medal, ACS’s Award in Pure Chemistry, the American Heart Association’s Basic Science Research Prize, RSC Awards in Biophysical Chemistry and in Spectroscopy, and the Biophysical Society's Award in Lipids. 

Research Interests

  • drug discovery for infectious diseases and cancer: synthesis of new drug leads; x-ray crystallography; spectroscopy; computational chemistry

Research Description

The work in our group is currently focused on two areas: anti-infective drug leads and anti-cancer drug leads. As is well known, there is a public health crisis due to the spread of drug resistant bacteria. One way to help address this problem is to use combination therapies. Another is that stimulating the first responders-gamma delta T cells, neutrophils and macrophages, could be effective. Targeting virulence factors is also of interest, offering high selectivity, as is targeting "physical" properties, such as membrane lipid bilayer permeability, as with daptomycin. Also, some very well-known drugs—rather than having a single target—have multiple targets. For example, penicillin targets families of penicillin-binding proteins, and fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin target DNA-binding proteins. We hypothesize that isoprenoid biosynthesis enzymes, prenylsynthases and prenyltransferases, involved in cell wall and quinone biosynthesis, represent a new generation of targets whose inhibition will lead to new drug leads that synergize with existing antibiotics. Plus, in some cases they will also affect membrane permeability, virulence and innate immunity. Our targets are undecaprenyl diphosphate synthase (UPPS), undecaprenyl diphosphate phosphatase (UPPP), farnesyl diphosphate synthase (FPPS), and octaprenyl/heptaprenyl diphosphate synthase (OPPS/HepPPS). UPPS lies between FPPS and UPPP in the cell wall biosynthesis pathway and we have leads that inhibit [UPPS+UPPP] or [UPPS+FPPS], some active in vivo, that also synergize with other antibiotics. We will also investigate FPPS and OPPS/HepPPS since dual-target inhibition of these will inhibit quinone biosynthesis and thus, bacterial bioenergetics. In one area, we focus on developing anionic prenyl synthase inhibitors based on recently discovered phosphonate/bisphosphonate and carboxylate leads, developing the (pre-) prodrug approach used in many antivirals for use in antibacterials. In a second area, we focus on developing cationic prenyl synthase inhibitors based on recently discovered inhibitors that target FPPS, UPPS and UPPP. And in a third area we are investigating prenyl synthase mechanisms of action and inhibition; toxicity; mutation frequencies; and synergy with compounds such as beta-lactams, vancomycin and fosmidomycin.

The second area of interest in in anti-cancer drug discovery. Here the objective is to develop novel anti-cancer drugs that target metastatic disease that can also function as cancer vaccine adjuvants. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Statistics Review (1975-2013), there were 14.1 million men and women alive in the United States who had been diagnosed with cancer of all sites, 6.6M men and 7.5M women, with breast, lung and prostate cancers making major contributions to morbidity and mortality. These cancers typically metastasize to bone and these bone symptoms are treated with a class of drugs called bisphosphonates. These drugs are very polar and bind to bone mineral and inhibit bone degradation by osteoclasts. In recent work, it has been found that bisphosphonates, in particular zoledronate, also have a remarkable "adjuvant" effect in combination with aromatase inhibitors in breast cancer, decreasing the recurrence of disease (at any site), although mechanisms of action have not been reported. Many mechanisms for bisphosphonate activity have been proposed including direct tumor killing, γδ T cell activation, macrophage M2 (pro- tumor) to M1 (antitumor) phenotype switching, as well as anti-angiogensis and anti-invasiveness. In addition, bisphosphonates are known to have effects as adjuvants, in vaccines. Since there seem to be so many diverse effects of bisphosphonates, we hypothesize that there could be a heretofore missing link-or missing links-that might help explain their diverse activity. In particular, we propose that multiple signaling pathways are involved in which prenylation, kinase inhibition, and adenine nucleotide translocase/AMPactivated AMP kinase/mTOR can all be involved. Our objective is to synthesize a broad range of novel non-nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates and test them for activity as cancer vaccine adjuvants, and for activity in tumor growth inhibition in vivo. We are also interested in a second class of targets, lysyl oxidases, Cu-proteins whose inhibition affects signaling through the EGFR pathway that contributes to tumor metastasis and are using modern multi-dimensional EPR techniques to probe their structure, and inhibition.

Distinctions / Awards

  • Biophysical Society Avanti Award in Lipids (2011)
  • Soft Matter and Biophysical Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry (2009)
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2008)
  • Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research (2006)
  • Alumni Research Scholar Professor of Chemistry (2002-2007)
  • Associate, Center for Advanced Study (2000-2001)
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Award in Spectroscopy (1995)
  • Richard G. and Carole J. Cline University Senior Scholar (1995)
  • Fellow, American Physical Society (1993)
  • American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry (1984)
  • The Colworth Medal of the Biochemical Society (1983)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (1981)
  • American Heart Association Louis N. Katz Basic Science Research Prize (1980)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (1978-1980)
  • The Meldola Medal and Prize of The Royal Society of Chemistry (1977)

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