Robert P Perry, PhD
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Robert P Perry, PhD, a biophysicist and molecular biologist, holds the Fox Chase Cancer Center's Stanley P. Reimann Endowed Chair in Research. For more than 40 years, Dr. Perry has carried out fundamental research aimed at understanding how the structural and functional characteristics of living cells are determined by the information encoded in their genes.
Born in Chicago and now a resident of Churchville, Pa., Dr. Perry earned his B.S. degree from Northwestern University in 1951 with a major in mathematics and received his PhD in biophysics from the University of Chicago in 1956. In 1953, soon after he began his doctoral studies, the structure of DNA was determined. Knowing the helical structure of DNA, which in humans carries an estimated twenty-five thousand or so genes, and gaining insight into the nature of the genetic code, were fundamental first steps in learning how genes direct the activities of individual cells, organs and organisms. Dr. Perry set out to do just that.
Before coming to Fox Chase, Dr. Perry did postdoctoral research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, where he was an American Cancer Society fellow. This postdoctoral experience provided him with a strong background in various aspects of cell biology.
Key discoveries that Dr. Perry has made since joining Fox Chase in 1960 have helped explain how the genetic blueprint is translated into the active cell products--enzymes and other proteins--that carry out the cell's functions. This process invariably involves transcribing the DNA's chemical messages into RNA, which ultimately sends orders to the cell's protein-making factories, called ribosomes.
One body of Dr. Perry's research efforts dealt with the synthesis of ribosomes in mammalian cells. His early studies demonstrated that the transcription and processing of ribosomal RNA occurs in a nuclear compartment known as the nucleolus, that the synthesis of ribosomal proteins occurs in the cytoplasm, and that the RNA and protein components are assembled into ribosomal particles in the nucleolus. He has also focussed on the organization and expression of genes that specify ribosomal proteins, including descriptions of their promoter structures, transcriptional regulators and mechanisms of translational control. In a recent bioinformatic study, he described evolutionarily conserved features of the promoter architecture in the 80 unlinked ribosomal protein genes of mammals.
Another area of Dr. Perry's research comprised studies of the transcription, processing and turnover of messenger RNA. Structural and kinetic studies helped establish a precursor-product relationship between heterogeneous nuclear RNA transcripts and cytoplasmic messenger RNA and also revealed the existence of post-transcriptional modifications such as the 5'-terminal cap structure.
The studies of messenger RNA metabolism evolved into an investigation of the organization and expression of the genes encoding immunoglobulins, the proteins of which antibodies are composed. This research led to important insights about the transcriptional regulation of immunoglobulin genes, the selective production of the membrane and secreted forms of immunoglobulin heavy chains by alternative RNA processing, and the relationship between the mechanism of immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and the phenomenon of allelic exclusion.
Dr. Perry's recent studies identified a protein that is implicated in the structural remodeling of chromatin. In the cell nucleus, DNA is packaged together with proteins to form both compacted and de-compacted forms of chromatin. This protein, called CHD1, appears to help organize the transcriptionally active, de-compacted form of chromatin.
Dr. Perry became a senior member of the Fox Chase faculty in 1969 and served as its Associate Director from 1971 to 1974. His achievements were recognized nationally in 1977 when he was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. As an Academy member, he has served on the organization's committee on human rights and was one of a three-person delegation that went on a 1978 fact-finding mission to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay. He also took part in a 1987 scholars exchange program with the Academy of Sciences of the former Soviet Union.
In addition to his work at Fox Chase, Dr. Perry has been a professor of biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of its graduate groups in molecular biology and biochemistry. Over the past four decades, he served as mentor to over forty graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. As a UNESCO consultant in 1965, he also held a visiting professorship at the University of Belgrade in Yugoslavia.Top