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Michael H. Gelb

Michael H. Gelb, PhD. Professor and Boris and Barbara L. Weinstein Endowed Chair in Chemistry
Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry

Ph.D. Yale University, 1982

(Chemical Biology, Biochemistry, Bioanalytical Chemistry)

(206) 543-7142

Gelb group website


Research Interests

Professor Gelb's research is in the area of medicinal enzymology. All of the enzyme systems under study are medicinally important. The lab is comprised of researchers with a wide range of expertise. Thus, students will gain experience in or be exposed to a number of techniques including synthetic organic chemistry for the preparation of enzyme inhibitors and proteomic reagents, purification of enzymes using conventional and novel approaches, protein chemistry techniques for determining protein modifications, recombinant DNA approaches for the over-expression of enzymes and enzyme alteration by site-directed mutagenesis, and animal cell culture for the analysis of enzymatic processes in living cells. The Gelb group works in three areas: 1) phospholipases A2 and inflammation; 2) development of anti-parasite drugs; and 3) new methods for screening of genetic diseases and for quantification of proteins in complex mixtures.


Phospholipases A2 catalyze the breakdown of phospholipids in cell membranes. There is currently a lot of interest in this class of enzymes because they release arachidonic acid for the biosynthesis of eicosanoids and are thus important in promoting inflammation. There is medicinal interest in these enzymes both in universities and in pharmaceutical industries. The Gelb group, in collaboration with the laboratory of G. Lambeau (IPMC, Sophia Antipolis, France), has cloned a number of novel human and mouse secreted phospholipases A2. Structure, function, and regulation studies of these enzymes is currently an intense area of research in the Gelb group. The work involves structure-based design and synthesis of phospholipase A2 inhibitors, studies on the role of these enzymes in eicosanoid biosynthesis in mammalian cells, and the use of knockout mice to study the role of these enzymes in inflammatory diseases such as asthma and arthritis.


The Gelb group also works on the use of mass spectrometry for quantitative analysis of proteins, enzymes, and lipids. One major area is the development of newborn screening of enzyme deficiency diseases. Mass spectrometry offers a general way to assay enzymes, and it allows multiplexing for the analysis of several enzymes at the same time. Methods to analyze a set of treatable genetic diseases called lysosomal storage diseases have advanced from the Gelb group to newborn screening centers worldwide. This project offers an interesting mix of synthetic organic chemistry and bioanalytical chemistry. A second area is the development of tagging reagents for quantitative analysis of proteins and lipids and methods for making detection by mass spectrometry more sensitive.


The third area of research in the Gelb group is medicinal chemistry of anti-parasitic agents. We are part of a UW-centered team to develop new drugs for African sleeping sickness, Malaria, and Chagas disease.


A final area is in collaboration with Professor Dustin Maly and involves the use of a genetically encoded switch that can be triggered by a small MW compound. This switch has widespread potential use for example in gating proteins to different regions of the cell and in disrupting protein-protein interactions. This is a very exciting new area of chemical biology.

Representative Publications

"Therapeutic intervention based on protein prenylation and associated modifications." Gelb, M.H.; Brunsveld, L.; Hrycyna, C.A.; Michaelis, S.; Tamanoi, F.; Van Voorhis, W.C.; and Waldmann, H. Nature Chem. Biol. 2006, 10, 518–528.

"Importance of group X-secreted phospholipase A2 in allergen-induced airway inflammation and remodeling in a mouse asthma model." Henderson, W.R., Jr; Chi, E.Y.; Bollinger, J.G.; Tien, Y.T.; Ye, X.; Castelli, L.; Rubtsov, Y.P.; Singer, A.G.; Chiang, G.K.; Nevalainen, T.; Rudensky, A.Y.; Gelb, M.H. J. Exp. Med. 2007, 204 (4): 865–877.

"A class of sterol 14-demethylase inhibitors as anti-Trypanosoma cruzi agents." Buckner, F.; Yokoyama, K.; Lockman, J.; Aikenhead, K.; Ohkanda, J.; Sadilek, M.; Sebti, S.; Van Voorhis, W.; Hamilton, A.; Gelb M.H. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2003, 100 (25): 1514915153.

"Drugs to combat tropical protozoan parasites." Gelb, M.H.; Hol, W.G. Science 2002, 297 (5580): 343344.

"Identification of geranylgeranyl-modified proteins in HeLa cells." Farnsworth, C.C.; Gelb, M.H.; Glomset, J.A. Science 1990, 247 (4940): 320322.


"Interfacial catalysis: the mechanism of phospholipase A2." Scott, D.L.; White, S.P.; Otwinowski, Z.; Yuan, W.; Gelb, M.H.; Sigler, P.B. Science 1990, 250 (4987): 15411546.


More Publications ...


Awards & Activities

  • Repligen Award in the Chemistry of Biological Processes, ACS Division of Biological Chemistry (2018)
  • University Faculty Lecture Award, University of Washington (2017)
  • Boris & Barbara L. Weinstein Endowed Chair in Chemistry (2014)
  • Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest, ACS Northeastern Section (2013)
  • Elected Member, Washington State Academy of Sciences (2012)
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009)
  • Harry and Catherine Jaynne Boand Endowed Professor of Chemistry (2008-2014)
  • National Institutes of Health Merit Award (2007-present)
  • Medicines for Malaria Venture Project of the Year (2003)
  • Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry given by the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (1993)
  • ICI Pharmaceuticals Award for Excellence in Chemistry (now given by AstraZeneca) (1993)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (1990-92)


More Awards and Activities

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