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Better Living Through Biology

Better Living through Biology
Biologist Helps Lead the Fight Against Crohn’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Diseases

By Miles Doyle

As a graduate student at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Jill Carton, GSAS ’96 and ’98, knew exactly what she wanted to do with her master’s and
Biologist Jill Carton, GSAS '96 and '98, is developing pharmaceutical drugs to help treat Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
Photo courtesy of Centocor, Inc.

doctoral degrees in molecular biology: develop pharmaceutical drugs that would change the lives of people struggling with life-altering diseases.   

“My goal was always to work in a drug discovery environment,” said Carton, a principle research scientist at the biotechnology company Centocor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, where she oversees the molecular biology and expression laboratory. “What was so great about my education at Fordham was that I was exposed to a broad spectrum of science and was encouraged to try new things and explore new technologies, which were both so important to my current career.”

Under the guidance of Berish Y. Rubin, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at Fordham and head of the University’s laboratory for Familial Dysautonomia research, Carton examined interferons—natural proteins produced by the body’s immune system to fight off viruses, parasites and tumor cells—and how interferons can be developed into anti-viral treatments.

“I engaged in so many different things that equipped me so well to do whatever I want to do in the field of molecular biology and drug discovery,” she said.

In addition to identifying and cloning interferon-regulated genes, Carton analyzed the genomic structure of the interferon-induced genes and studied interferon-mediated cellular responses.
Her work at Fordham helped her land a postdoctoral fellowship in drug discovery at the R.W. Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute, where she identified glucocorticoid-regulated genes through differential display analysis, a technique for observing the transcription of genes and monitoring changes in their expression. Glucocorticoids are a class of steroid hormones that raise the body’s blood sugar level and are used widely in therapy to help reduce the inflammatory destruction of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

In 2000, Carton, a former Clare Boothe Luce Fellow at Fordham, joined Centocor as a research scientist, working her way up to senior research scientist and, eventually, to her current position. She and her team create the protein tool needed to study and treat autoimmune diseases.

“We try to figure out which molecules are causing diseases and then create antibodies to neutralize the activities of those target molecules in disease progression,” said Carton.

Carton’s Centocor group is at the front of the fight against a number of autoimmune diseases. Centocor’s best-known treatment, Remicade, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 and helps reduce the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

“We are leaders in the fight against autoimmune diseases and oncology,” she said. “The goal of the lab is to make drugs that affect the lives of the patients we want to treat.

“This is right where I always wanted to be.”

—Miles Doyle, FCRH '01, is the associate editor of FORDHAM magazine.

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