Jeffrey Atkinson: Professor, Chemistry

Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex

Jeffrey Atkinson: Professor, Chemistry

Research: chemistry of vitamin E and interactions of lipid transfer proteins with biological membranes

Ask Jeffrey Atkinson if he takes his vitamins and he’ll probably tell you that he takes them very seriously. His drug of choice? Vitamin E.

Atkinson’s research program is focused on the bioorganic chemistry of vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, and how it and other poorly water-soluble compounds are moved around the human body. After nearly two decades of research, Atkinson’s research activity includes the synthesis of new organic molecules and the study of proteins that move fats and lipids around our bodies. His group has prepared forms of vitamin E that are brightly fluorescent, allowing their movement to be tracked in cells and tissues. They have also prepared and patented compounds that are inhibitors of vitamin E metabolism which could potentially be used to make the body’s vitamin E last longer.

A recently developed invention of compounds may be useful to protect cells (and animals) from dying after they’ve been exposed to radiation, from what is known as “programmed cell death.” His research will have an impact on future medical treatments for those persons exposed to radiation from cancer radiotherapy. Atkinson was recently awarded a grant by the Center for Medical Countermeasures against Radiation (funded by the National Institutes of Allergic and Infectious Disease), and is already producing encouraging results. In early testing, most of the animals that had received a dose of the new compounds and then were exposed to radiation were still alive at 30 days. Those that did not receive the compound were dead in 10 days.

The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will allow Atkinson use of state-of-the-art biotechnology facilities solely dedicated to bioscience research. Several of Atkinson’s graduate students have moved on to prestigious research positions at hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, and with the enhanced research capability that the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will afford his team, this trend is expected to continue.


Jeffrey Atkinson