Thanks to the breadth of her work in chemical biology, Dr. Rebecca Davis gets to work on everything from early detection of Parkinson’s disease and antibiotic resistance to new areas in research into cancer and multiple sclerosis.
“That’s the glory of what I do,” says Dr. Davis, an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba. “Drugs have specific targets and behave in very different ways and that’s based on how they interact. But I’m only interested in the reaction, so that allows me to work in numerous fields. We’re looking at gene protein interactions and how to modulate those, so we get to solve various problems because the level I’m working at is fundamental to all of them.”
Simply put, Dr. Davis creates quantum mechanical and molecular mechanical models to try and understand how molecules interact with one another.
“I deal in a world where we can’t see what we’re studying,” she says. “We’re using everything physics can give us to try and explain and predict the world around us and life in particular.”
Her goal is to understand how things such as drugs and potential drug toxins interact in biological systems so that, in a perfect world, she and her team can help to develop new drugs. Known as the Davis Research Group, the team also looks to understand how the compounds it makes interact with each other so that it can approach the design of drug development more rationally in the future. Another area of study is trying to understand what toxins from the environment are interacting strongly in human bodies.
“We’ve moved into focussing on green methods to make compounds and we do a lot of modelling on methods we think might work,” Dr. Davis says. “We take the quantum mechanical realm and then try to make atoms come together in new ways.”
Dr. Davis and her team rely heavily on modelling and high-performance computing (HPC). In fact, she says, her field wouldn’t exist without HPC.
“Most of the digital research infrastructure (DRI) resources that I employ have been heavily in the modelling because we deal in very complex models and we need a lot of data,” she says.
Quantum mechanics is very advanced and “computationally expensive” because it’s modelling multiple atoms coming together.
“My field simply wouldn’t exist without these resources. They’re the foundation of everything we do.”