Ernest Awoonor-Williams is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, where he works at the Centre for Molecular Simulation and Modeling in the Rowley Computational Chemistry group. His research lies at the intersection of computational biochemistry and drug discovery. The main focus of his research is to identify druggable targets in proteins to assist drug developers and medicinal chemists in designing better drugs for therapeutic purposes. Currently, Ernest’s research efforts are geared towards investigating the reactivity of cysteine amino acids in the kinase family of proteins—important therapeutic targets in the treatment of cancers and other diseases. The thiol side-chain of the amino acid cysteine offers unique roles in biology, including binding to drug molecules and metals ions like zinc. The significance of these cysteine residues to drug discovery is that some anticancer drugs have been developed that feature a functional group that can form a covalent bond with proteins through these cysteine residues. These drugs have the potential to bind to their targets more strongly and selectively than conventional drugs, providing new avenues for the treatment of diseases like cancer.
Ernest holds a BSc (Hons) degree in Chemistry from Mount Allison University, Canada. He is a strong advocate for quality global education, gender equality, and diversity in science. He is an active volunteer and has been involved with numerous charitable organizations; such as Habitat for Humanity, Doctors without Borders, and Student’s Offering Support (SOS). He has tutored undergraduates in maths, chemistry, and biochemistry since 2011 and is currently a volunteer exam-aid instructor in Chemistry for Memorial University’s SOS chapter. He is the current president of Memorial University Biophysical student society. Ernest is a passionate soccer player and has coached children at the U8, U10, and U12 levels.
Ernest has won numerous awards for his research, academic, and extracurricular activities. For his efforts in international student mentorship and volunteering, he was awarded the honorary “Marc-Alexandre Chartrand International Mentorship Award (2014)” prior to graduation from Mount Allison University for going above and beyond the expectations of the program while building bridges between students of all nationalities. Ernest holds a prestigious NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship at Memorial University and is an ACEnet Research Fellow.