Dr. Matthew S. Gentry named chair of department of biochemistry and molecular biology
He will join the UF College of Medicine faculty Aug. 22
April 14, 2022 — When asked what he would focus on if he could do anything other than his current work as a prominent brain metabolism scientist, Matthew S. Gentry, Ph.D., didn’t hesitate.
“That’s easy; My No. 1 choice is center fielder for the New York Mets,” he said with a deliberate chuckle. “But seriously, I think I’d be working in some realm of politics or advocacy.”
Gentry, who was recently named by College of Medicine Dean Colleen Koch, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., to serve as the next chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, has plenty of experience in public advocacy work and meeting with members of Congress to highlight the importance of basic research.
As a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for 14 years, and having served as the chair of its Public Affairs Advisory Committee from 2017-2019, Gentry has long been involved in helping influence public policy and political engagement around education and research activities within the life sciences.
“Life science research is invaluable to our society,” he said. “It’s important to engage with the policymakers and advocate for biomedical science funding — to make sure researchers’ voices are heard by those who make federal funding decisions.”
Gentry, who will begin his new role at UF on Aug. 22, is currently the Antonio S. Turco Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where he is also director of the Brain & Epilepsy Alliance for Metabolism, or BEAM, Research and the Lafora Epilepsy Cure Initiative Center, a program funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Gentry’s laboratory is investigating and defining metabolic perturbations in neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy, cancer, glycogen storage diseases and Toxoplasma gondii infection. He has been continuously funded by the NIH since 2007, when he was among the first to receive the NIH Pathway to Independence Award, and his lab currently receives funding from an NINDS R35, NINDS P01 and NCI R01. He also has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation since receiving an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program, or CAREER, award in 2013. In addition, his lab receives funding from the CURE Epilepsy Foundation and industry-sponsored projects.
While the central theme of his work is perturbed glycogen metabolism, Gentry is inspired by the patients and families he has come to know through his involvement with the patient advocacy group Chelsea’s Hope.
Since 2014, he has organized seven meetings that bring together medical researchers, neurologists, trainees, representatives from the National Institutes of Health and industry and families affected by Lafora disease — an inherited and severe form of childhood dementia and progressive myoclonus epilepsy that he began working on as postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Diego — to collaborate on finding solutions and treatments. Through their combined efforts, they have developed four preclinical therapeutic platforms for treating Lafora disease, with three of the potential therapies transitioning from preclinical mouse models into the clinic.
“Speaking to families and learning their stories helps put our work into perspective,” Gentry said. “One can’t get as frustrated when experiments fail after seeing what these families go through. It also makes us push harder to succeed.”
In his role as an educator, Gentry — who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Evansville in Indiana and a doctoral degree in biology from Syracuse University in New York — has trained nine graduate students, 25 undergraduate students and six postdocs. He received the 2014 NIH IDeA Thomas Maciag Award for excellence in scientific discoveries and mentoring, the 2017 University of Kentucky Research Professor award, the 2018 NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship and the 2020 Academy of Medical Educators Award for mentorship.
He has served on multiple NIH and NSF study sections, is an editorial board member for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and has authored or co-authored more than 80 peer-reviewed articles.
Gentry said he is excited about the opportunity to build on the existing strengths within the department of biochemistry and molecular biology and to have his research benefit from the outstanding facilities and colleagues at UF.
“The UF College of Medicine, and the university as a whole, has endless potential for us as scientists to learn from each other and to push the boundaries of what we can discover,” he said.