HELENA SAFAVI portrait
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, School Of Biological Sciences
  • Associate Professor, Department Of Biochemistry
801-581-2117

Research Statement

Venomous animals have evolved large libraries of bioactive compounds that disrupt the physiology and/or behavior of prey, predators and competitors. The venoms of predatory marine cone snails have been particularly useful because of the high diversity and specificity of peptides that potently target receptors, ion channels and transporters in prey. These molecular targets play critical roles in health and disease rendering cone snail venoms ideal sources for the discovery of pharmacological tools and therapeutics for a wide range of conditions, including pain, epilepsy, stroke and autoimmune disease.

Our research centers on applying novel computational and experimental tools for the discovery of toxins with therapeutic potential. We are particularly interested in small peptide toxins that mimic endogenous receptor ligands in prey, including toxins implicated in regulating glucose homeostasis (e.g., insulin) and pain (e.g., neurotensin-like peptides).

Presentations

  • Safavi H. Next-generation conotoxin discovery and design. Rising Stars Symposium, Department of Biochemistry, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT. , , 2017.
  • Safavi H. Evolution of a Specialized Family of Venom Insulins in Predatory Cone Snails. Department of Bioinformatics, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia. , , 2015.
  • Safavi H. Expression of insulins in the venom gland of cone snails and investigations into the biosynthesis of venom peptides by specialized protein disulfide isomerases (PDI). Novo Nordisk, Copenhagen, Denmark. , , 2015.
  • Safavi H. A systems biology approach to study conotoxin biosynthesis and folding. OzBio, The Molecules of Life, Melbourne, Australia. , , 2010.
  • Safavi H. Insights into the evolution and therapeutic value of cone snail venom insulins. Invited Plenary Talk, 19th World Congress of the International Society on Toxinology, Haiku, China. , , 2017.
  • Safavi H. Evolutionary Cleverness of Cone Snails – Venom Insulins. Invited plenary Talk, Biodiversity & Chemical Biology of Marine and Terrestrial Life, Philippines. , , 2016.
  • Safavi H. Specialized Insulin is used for chemical warfare by fish-hunting cone snails. 24th American Peptide Symposium, Orlando, FL. , , 2015.
  • Safavi H. Specialized venom gland protein disulfide isomerases facilitate the folding of cone snail toxins. ER & Redox Club Meeting, Venice, Italy. , , 2014.
  • Safavi H. Understanding the biosynthesis and folding of conotoxins – model disulfide-rich peptides. 9th Australian Peptide Conference, Hamilton Island, Australia. , , 2011.

Languages

  • English, Fluent.
  • German, Fluent.