Jennifer Lauren Sporty Knaack
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Mercer University, USA
Dr. Jennifer Knaack is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA. She received her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Southern California, CA where she studied the structure of an intestinal drug transporter. Following her graduate studies, Dr. Knaack was a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA where she studied yeast metabolism using accelerator mass spectrometry. Dr. Knaack then spent four years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA where she developed novel diagnostic methods for measuring human exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents and paralytic shellfish toxins. Now at Mercer University, Dr. Knaack is establishing a laboratory for the development of novel diagnostic methods for measuring exposure to environmental and synthetic toxins. Dr. Knaack has authored more than 15 publications, one book chapter and has given numerous invited oral presentations and poster presentations.
My research interests focus on public health and human exposure to environmental and synthetic chemical toxins. For many toxins, laboratory diagnostics to confirm or quantify exposure do not exist. In these cases, clinical diagnosis of exposure is made which may be incorrect and can result in an underlying condition remaining untreated. Furthermore, the mechanism of action is unclear for many of these toxins and determining their targets and metabolites produced upon exposure will facilitate the development of novel diagnostic tests. My research projects fall into three categories: (1) determining the mechanism of action and biological targets for environmental and synthetic toxins , (2) identification and development of novel biomarkers of exposure to these toxins, and (3) development of diagnostic methods for measuring exposure to these toxins. Toxins of interest to me, including organophosphorus pesticides, paralytic shellfish toxins, and mycotoxins, are present in the environment and pose exposure threats to public health on a regular basis. For many of these toxins, known biomarkers of exposure are limited to rapidly-degrading urinary metabolites. However, these toxins often form more persistent biomarkers of exposure such as protein adducts. By identifying the mechanism of action for these compounds, novel biomarkers of exposure can be developed into diagnostic assays for clinical use. By uncovering the mechanism of action, we aim to also uncover potential drug targets that can serve as treatments for exposure. Liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) is rapidly becoming the standard analytical technique for clinical diagnostics and so newly developed analytical diagnostics will rely on this technology. Currently, my primary project involves paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs). These toxins derive from red tide algae and bioaccumulate in shellfish. Consumption of contaminated shellfish causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) which is characterized by paresthesia, dysphagia, and dysarthria. These manifestations are common to other conditions including strokes and heart attacks making clinical diagnosis of PSP difficult. No comprehensive diagnostic methods exist to measure human exposure to all known PSTs. Furthermore, no treatments are available for PSP and victims are provided with supportive therapy only. My laboratory is developing a new LC/MS/MS diagnostic test that takes advantage of sodium channels, the biological target of PSTs, to extract toxins from urine and plasma. We are also collaborating with computational chemists to develop potential treatments for PSP that could be consumed or administered immediately following ingestion of contaminated shellfish.