Congratulations Sake!

At the University of Utah Biomedical Engineering program, you have ample opportunities to collaborate with multiple institutions, departments, and professions. Michael Yu, a professor in the University of Utah Biomedical Engineering Department has a student doing just that. Sake is a student with our sister institution, Molecular Pharmaceutics. But that doesn’t mean he can’t work with one of our professors, or professors from other colleges! These collaborations help students to have a broad pool of conference and seminar opportunities, like the Gordon Research Conference that Sake went to.

If  you’ve been considering attending one of the over 500 Gordon Research Conferences and Seminars, make sure you read about Sake’s amazing experience below!

Sake and his collaborator, Prof. Kent Kirshenbaum from NYU Chemistry, with Sake’s poster

It was a wonderful experience to attend the 2022 Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) and Gordon Research Conference (GRC) Chemistry and Biology of Peptides from Oct 29th – Nov 4th at Oxnard, CA. I presented a part of my research in the poster session at this conference. My presentation title was “Peptoid residues make stabile collagen triple helices”. Briefly, this work demonstrates that the peptoid residues could be incorporated into the GlyXaaYaa motif of collagen, and most of them did not disrupt the triple helical structure of collagen mimetic peptide. We are interested in incorporating peptoids into collagen mimetic peptides because they are more metabolically stable than amino acids and have diverse side chains. However, triple helical propensities of peptoid residues in the Xaa and Yaa positions are different as evidenced by melting temperatures of host peptides containing guest peptoids. Our experimental and computational data show that peptoids’ dihedral angles (backbone and side chain) in the Xaa and Yaa positions are largely different. We speculated that it is derived from the differences in the nearby residues and spaces around the Xaa and Yaa position. We are currently utilizing the findings from this work to engineer novel collagen peptidomimetics for diagnosis and therapeutic applications.

The GRS is an associated meeting of the GRC, where graduate students, postdocs, and early career scientists present, exchange, and discuss research in peptide science. The conference program started from the GRS meeting in the first two days, followed by GRC. The conference topics ranged from the chemistry of peptide synthesis, peptide biosynthesis, artificial intelligence in peptide discovery and design, tools and technologies for the discovery and studying peptides, peptide materials, green chemistry, biological activities of peptides, and translations of peptides as therapeutics. The works presented at this conference were cutting-edge and pre-publication, ensuring that the attendees learned the latest research in the field. In addition, the attendants were from both academia and industry. One of the research areas that was interesting to me was the use of mRNA display technology for bioactive peptide discovery. This technology can generate very large peptide libraries (1013 variants) and incorporate either natural or unnatural amino acids into peptides. It is the technology that (bio)pharmaceutical companies are using to develop new peptide therapeutics. Besides the research, the conference was very inclusive, warm-welcoming, and diverse. I met people from different countries, races, backgrounds, and genders. I met a lot of people in the field and have connected with many of them, either from academia or industry. I received several useful comments and suggestions for my work and career path from many attendants. I wanted to recommend other students and postdocs to go to any GRC conference that fits their research. There are hundreds of GRC conferences you can find on their website ( They are good places to build your networks and find a potential employer once you graduate or finish postdoctoral training.



Pahweenvaj Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, R.Ph.

Ph.D. student in Molecular Pharmaceutics

Michael Yu Group

University of Utah, UT, USA