Cobber Is Conducting Groundbreaking Research

Maison Grefe researches potential life-saving drug candidates in his internship.

Maison Grefe ’20 spent the 2020 spring semester conducting biomedical research as an intern for the Scripps Institute in Jupiter, Fla.

Grefe, a biology major, has been conducting research on RNA drugging under the direction of Dr. Matthew Disney, a chemistry professor at Scripps. The Scripps Research Institute is a world-renowned research institution, being named the most influential institution in the world for its impact on innovation by Nature magazine in 2017.

“It’s unprecedented, groundbreaking work,” Grefe said. “Most drugs today focus on finding small molecules that can modulate the function of proteins, but our lab focuses on RNA, which offers far more targets for drugging. My work is primarily focused on identifying these small molecules that can bind to RNA which could potentially become drugs.”

By using this RNA-focused approach, the Disney lab has produced new drug candidates against diseases that include breast cancer, ALS, and types of muscular dystrophy. Recently, the lab has devoted its resources to producing drug candidates that would fight COVID-19.

It was a stroke of luck that brought Grefe to Scripps. He had originally planned to finish his last semester at Concordia studying in Ireland. He hadn’t considered applying to Scripps until he met with Dr. Krys Strand, associate professor of biology, to discuss his postgraduate plans. Strand, director of Concordia undergraduate research, encouraged Grefe to apply for the internship. Grefe was accepted into the program and quickly chose to spend the semester at Scripps.

“Concordia prepared me really well for this experience,” Grefe said. “Concordia teaches you how to think and act in a laboratory setting, how to work together with people. A liberal arts education is very well-suited to equip students with the tools necessary to think outside the box.”

Grefe accepted an offer from Disney to stay in Florida after the internship concluded in June and continue working in the lab. Grefe plans to stay in the lab until he attends graduate school for biomedical research.