Dr. Sylvia Daunert Named Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
A brilliant educator and biochemist internationally renowned for her work in bioanalytical chemistry, and her focus on developing outstanding new molecular devices to help detect or treat health and environmental disorders, has been named chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., M.S., most recently a Distinguished Professor and the Gill Eminent Professor of Analytical and Biological Chemistry at the University of Kentucky, began her new Miller School post on July 1.
“One of my most important responsibilities as Dean is to attract leaders who are world-class scientists to our faculty, and Sylvia Daunert is a world-class luminary joining our Miller School family,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, and CEO of University of Miami Health System – UHealth. “Dr. Daunert’s cutting-edge work will be an inspiration for us all, and I particularly admire her commitment to achieving real-world applications useful to humankind. She is joining a department that has an admirable history of top-tier chairs, including interim chair Louis “Skip” Elsas, and her talents as a premier scientist and educator will help propel the Miller School to new heights.”
Daunert, who has made several visits to the Miller School and met with faculty members in biochemistry and other departments, says she was impressed with the high-caliber faculty and the direction in which Dean Goldschmidt is leading the medical school.
“The Miller School and the University of Miami have made significant strides over the years, and becoming part of the institution means joining a team that is destined for greatness,” Daunert said. “I was extremely excited when I spoke with Dean Goldschmidt and saw the teams he put together. He has enormous enthusiasm for the interface of biotechnology and bioengineering and I see unlimited opportunity to help create new programs to educate students and explore new scientific discoveries. “
Daunert and her Kentucky team focused on recombinant DNA technology to develop new bioanalytical techniques. The group has genetically altered proteins and cells to develop new biosensors, biomaterials and devices. Bionanotechnology, new devices and methods of drug delivery are important aspects of her group’s scientific endeavors.
The Daunert group designs photoproteins and bacteria genetically engineered to glow and produce different colors to help detect levels of certain target molecules important in the clinic as well as in the environment. For example, using protein-based biosensors, Daunert is working on a responsive drug delivery system or “smart pill,” a tiny device that could be placed in the abdomen to help control diabetes by sensing levels of glucose and in response delivering appropriate amounts of medication. In another configuration and in collaboration with iGlyko Inc., her team is developing catheters capable of continuous monitoring of glucose in patients in the ICU. Daunert has several patents covering the different areas of the discoveries of her group.
Daunert believes in extensive interdisciplinary collaboration and plans to work not only among departments at the Miller School but also across the Coral Gables and Rosenstiel campuses. In Kentucky, she worked closely with faculty in engineering, jointly designing devices, and with physicians who are testing the devices in their clinics.
As she did in Kentucky, Daunert hopes to have Miller School students work with students in partner universities abroad. For one program, Daunert’s Kentucky students worked with students at a university in Spain to design a biomedical device that could be used to help patients. The program, she says, was enormously successful and resulted in students embracing a new language, culture and method of attacking scientific problems.
“We live in an increasingly global environment and I want students to communicate and integrate with their peers around the world,” Daunert said. “Miami is already a cultural melting pot and I hope to introduce similar global research projects at the Miller School.”
Mentoring and teaching others how to mentor are part of Daunert’s teaching philosophy. She has directed a National Science Foundation-backed summer research program for undergraduates. In addition to 21 Ph.D. candidates and five post-doctoral and senior research associates, her research group at the University of Kentucky included two medical students, three undergraduates-and two high school students.
Daunert is a native of Barcelona, Spain. She earned two doctorate degrees, a Pharm.D. and a Ph.D. in bioanalytical chemistry, both from the University of Barcelona, and a master of science in medicinal chemistry from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Daunert, who was a Fulbright Scholar, also serves on several scientific advisory boards and has been part of National Institutes of Health special review panels.
Currently, Daunert, whose publications include more than 200 journal articles, books and book chapters, is editor of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, executive editor of Analytical Biochemistry, and a member of the editorial advisory board of Bioconjugate Chemistry. She has also been honored with numerous awards from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Chemical Society, and other professional and private institutions.
Daunert has moved to Miami with her husband, Leonidas G. Bachas, Ph.D., formerly the Frank J. Derbyshire Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky who has been named dean of UM’s College of Arts and Sciences. Daunert and Bachas have three children: a daughter, Stephanie, a Princeton graduate who starts this summer in the environmental engineering Ph.D. program at Stanford University; a son, Philip, a sophomore at Georgetown University; and an 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, who is looking forward to living in Miami.