Professor Thomas V. O’Halloran, Ph.D., is an MSU Foundation Professor directing an interdisciplinary research team that works at the interface of inorganic chemistry and biology. His research focuses on how the chemistry of metals controls or disrupts cellular functions across organisms that span the tree of life.
O’Halloran and his team have discovered two new classes of metal receptor proteins — the metalloregulatory proteins, or soluble receptors that regulate gene expression, and the metallochaperone proteins, factors that govern metal trafficking in cells. The group established the molecular mechanisms by which these receptors regulate key biological processes. He and his team also developed fluorescent probes that revealed how eggs use fluctuations in zinc concentrations to regulate fertilization and development. Their discovery of zinc sparks in human eggs was cited by Discover Magazine as one of the top ten scientific discoveries of 2016.
On the small molecule side, the O’Halloran group developed new compositions of matter and established mechanisms in the molybdenum, arsenic and platinum families of anticancer drugs. O’Halloran has founded several biotech companies that focus on drug discovery in the areas of cancer and infectious disease, and this work has led to new FDA-approved drugs that use or target the inorganic chemistry of the cell.
O’Halloran received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a doctorate in 1985 from Columbia University in biological inorganic chemistry. He joined the faculty of Northwestern University in 1986 after an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2021, he moved to Michigan State University where he serves as the director of the Elemental Health Institute.
While at Northwestern, O’Halloran served as the founding director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and the Morrison Professor in the chemistry and molecular bioscience departments, where he mentored more than 100 pre- and postdoctoral students. His scientific recognitions include a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health; the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award; a National Searle Scholars Award; an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship; the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award; the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Schering-Plough Scientific Achievement Award; the David Danks Award for Research of Copper Homeostasis Award; and the Royal Society of Chemistry Bioinorganic Award.
O’Halloran is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and an elected member of the National Academy of Inventors.