Skip to content
Portrait of John Engen

He studies how proteins change in reaction to drugs

John Engen is the James L. Waters chair in analytical chemistry and distinguished professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Science. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

John R. Engen, the James L. Waters chair in analytical chemistry and distinguished professor of chemistry and chemical biology, has received the Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award for his contributions to the field of mass spectrometry, a technique used to measure the weight and structure of molecules. 

Engen uses mass spectrometry to study proteins, and specifically, how they change shape in reaction to drugs or disease. Engen’s lab collaborates with numerous pharmaceutical companies and academic research labs to identify the characteristics of specific proteins, an integral step in determining the cause of a disease or the way a drug will work, for example. 

Portrait of John Engen

Engen uses mass spectrometry to study proteins, and specifically, how they change shape in reaction to drugs or disease. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

“Could you store this therapeutic protein in a freezer for six months, and will it be exactly the same when you take it out as when you put it in? These are the kinds of questions we can answer,” Engen says. 

Insulin is one example of a protein-based drug that could be studied using mass spectrometry. This technique could be used to test the drug before it goes into a patient to ensure the proteins haven’t changed shape since the drug was manufactured. 

Additionally, Engen and his team study how proteins signal when cells should die, an important process for understanding cancer cells that continue living despite the organism’s best interest. Their research also focuses on how proteins are involved in cell communication, valuable information for pharmaceutical manufacturers who want to stop cell communication using certain drugs.   

Since 2007, Engen’s lab has been partnered with the Waters Corporation, a company that manufactures mass spectrometry tools. In addition to doing research with other labs and pharmaceutical companies, Engen and his team help educate researchers on how to use some of the Waters Corporation’s instruments.

“I’ve been doing this type of research for 25 years,” says Engen, who would be considered one of the pioneering researchers in his specific field, which really began gaining traction about a decade ago when commercial availability of mass spectrometry tools increased. 

“It’s a whole different landscape now,” he says, referring to the study of proteins using mass spectrometry. “We’ve been influential in shaping that.” 

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

Cookies on Northeastern sites

This website uses cookies and similar technologies to understand your use of our website and give you a better experience. By continuing to use the site or closing this banner without changing your cookie settings, you agree to our use of cookies and other technologies. To find out more about our use of cookies and how to change your settings, please go to our Privacy Statement.