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Donald D. Clarke

Donald D. Clarke, Ph.D., Professor of chemistry

Donald D. Clarke, Ph.D., is professor of chemistry at Fordham University.

Donald D. Clarke, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at Fordham since 1962, was recently named a fellow of the American Chemical Society, one of the world’s most prestigious science societies. The honor is reserved for outstanding achievements in and contributions to science, the profession and the society.

Clarke, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry at Fordham, was inducted at the society’s national meeting in Denver in August.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Clarke’s work within the chemistry community, largely because of how it relates to the fight against Parkinson's Disease. Scientists have returned to the important contributions Clarke and his coworkers made to the study of amino acid transmitters, specifically genes involved in glutamic acid metabolism, from 1993 to 1994—when Clarke served as visiting professor in the Department of Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“The Parkinson’s researchers found that there was a version of glutamate dehydrogenase that was different in the brain than the one in the liver,” said Clarke. “We were interested in getting the brain version propagated in plentiful quantities.”

This propagation had potential applications in Parkinson’s treatment because, according to Clarke, in atypical Parkinson’s disease there is a deficiency of the type of this enzyme that metabolizes glutamate, the salt form of glutamic acid.

Additionally, earlier researchers found that glutamate does not get across the blood-brain barrier easily, so it cannot be supplied from the blood and must be produced in the brain to be a neurotransmitter.

These factors led to the researchers’ interest in studying the cloning of the gene involved in this aspect of glutamic acid metabolism, which could be transferred from one organism to another to produce the enzyme in large quantities.

While glutamate research hasn’t led to many drugs, Clarke said, he has benefited from one of the drugs that was produced from this work.

“When I developed shingles over my eye, I actually took one of them—Gabapentin—which is used to relieve neurological pain and was a drug that I had worked on.”

   

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