Undergraduate Research

Gabriel N. Morais '25

OUR Featured Researcher: Gabriel N. Morais '25
Photo Credit: Jacob Strauss
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Gabriel N. Morais (he/him/his) is majoring in Chemistry and Biology. He is conducting mentored research under Professor William Parsons. His project is titled "Development of small-molecule inhibitors against mammalian rhomboid intramembrane proteases".

Please describe your project: 

Small-molecule inhibitors have served as important tools in the characterization of several classes of enzymes. As many disease states are associated with the abnormal activity of proteins, having a better understanding of their physiological functions can provide critical insight into potential strategies for treating diseases. Small-molecule inhibitors can be utilized to selectively target proteins of interest and further investigate their activities in biological systems. My project's goal is to synthesize new small-molecule enzyme inhibitors and evaluate their potential activity against all five mammalian rhomboid intramembrane proteases using activity-based protein profiling methods.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

Enzymes mediate chemical reactions in all living organisms. Their abnormal activity can cause or be associated with diseases. Small-molecule inhibitors can help us better understand the activity of enzymes, which provides key insights for the development of new treatments for illnesses.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

I meet with my mentor in his office to discuss the next steps in the project. Then, I go to the lab to work on the procedures that generally include setting up the reactions, followed by purification and characterization of products with column chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

Preliminary findings indicate that the initial set of N-sulfonylated lactams we had synthesized exhibited partial inhibition of PARL. Following steps include evaluating their potential inhibition activity against the other mammalian rhomboid intramembrane proteases.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have presented my high school biochemistry research at three conferences and have presented my current college organic chemistry research at the Oberlin College Research Symposium 2022.

How did you get involved in research?

One of my family members had a condition whose medication was too expensive for my family to afford. It made me constantly wonder and look for more information about drug production, which led me to join a research lab when I was a junior in high school to study biocatalysis.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

No shadow of a doubt that my favorite aspect and, consequently, what drives me the most in the research process is the possibility of discovering new things that nobody else has ever found out about before, especially at a molecular level.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

My research mentor always gave me plenty of room to express my observations and hypotheses, which helped me build the confidence to make decisions and work independently.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Conducting research allowed me to improve my technical skills to work with independence in a research lab, which helped me get a summer research internship at a medical school. Also, now I feel more comfortable expressing my ideas more effectively and concisely.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

Find a topic that captives you and makes you lose track of time while doing the work. Also, look for mentors. They have a lot of experience, so they can help you overcome obstacles similar to those they encountered at the beginning of their careers.