Program Coordinator:
Cristin Connerty

Fighting Cancer with a Famous Poison

Thomas O’Halloran

Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Molecular Biosciences, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, Feinberg School of Medicine

Inaugural Director, Chemistry of Life Processes Institute
Director, Center for Developmental Therapeutics
Director, Quantitative Bio-element Imaging Center
Principal Investigator, Physical Sciences-Oncology Center

Thomas V. O’Halloran is an expert on how living cells sense, regulate and manage metals such as iron, zinc and copper. In addition to showing that changes in the levels of some metals within cells may play a role in infectious diseases, cancer, liver disorders and diabetes, he has developed novel drugs for diseases such as Wilson’s disease, fungal infections and cancer. His work also offers insights into the effect of zinc on the reproductive process and has led to the creation of new therapies that harness the biological chemistry of metals such as arsenic and platinum.

O’Halloran is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in Chemistry and Professor of Molecular Biosciences in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences and a professor in the department of medicine, division of hematology and oncology in the Feinberg School of Medicine. He is the founding director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP) and director of the Institute’s Quantitative Bio-element Imaging Center and Center for Developmental Therapeutics. O’Halloran is the principal investigator of the Chicago Region Physical Science-Oncology Center (CR-PSOC), a partnership between CLP and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University that unites physical scientists and cancer researchers from Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Philips SJ, Canalizo-Hernandez M, Yildirim I, Schatz GC, Mondragón A, O’Halloran TV. Allosteric transcriptional regulation via changes in the overall topology of the core promoter. Science. 2015 Aug 21;349(6250):877-81.

Que EL, Bleher R, Duncan FE, Kong BY, Gleber SC, Vogt S, Chen S, Garwin SA, Bayer AR, Dravid V, Woodruff TK, O’Halloran TV. Quantitative mapping of zinc fluxes in the mammalian egg reveals the origin of fertilization-induced zinc sparks. Nature Chemistry (2015) Feb;7(2):130-9. doi: 10.1038/nchem.2133. Epub 2014 Dec 15.

Gilston BA, Wang S, Marcus MD, Canalizo-Hernandez MA, Swindell EP, Xue Y, Mondragon A, O’Halloran TV. “Structural and Mechanistic Basis of Zinc Regulation Across the E. coli Zur Regulon” PLoS Biology (2014). Nov 4;12(11):e10011987.

Miodragovic DU, Quentzel JA, Kurutz JW, Stern CL, Ahn RW, Kandela I, Mazar AP, O’Halloran TV.  “Robust Structure and Reactivity of Aqueous Arsenous Acid-Platinum (II) Anticancer Complexes.” Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl., 2013. 52;1-5.

Kim AM, Bernhardt ML, Kong BY, Ahn RW, Vogt S, Woodruff TK, O’Halloran TV. Zinc sparks are triggered by fertilization and facilitate cell cycle resumption in mammalian eggs. ACS Chemical Biology., Jul 15;6(7):716-23.

Alvarez HM, Xue Y, Robinson CD, Canalizo-Hernandez MA, Marvin RG, Mondragon A, Penner-Hahn JE, O’Halloran TV. Tetrathiomolybdate Inhibits Copper Trafficking Proteins Through Metal Cluster Formation.Science. 2010 Jan 15;327(5963):331-4.

Select Honors and Awards
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Dalton Award for Bioinorganic Chemistry (2013)
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry (2013)
  • David Denks Award for Research on Copper Homeostasis & its Disorders (2008)
  • Fellow, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (2007)
  • MERIT award, National Institutes of Health (2001-2010)
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999)
  • Guggenheim Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1998-1999)