Conner I Sandefur

University of Michigan Ann Arbor


SAPAI Crew on Flathead Reservation Tour

Me (far right) with SAPAI program faculty, staff and participants on the Flathead Reservation tour.

About me

I am originally from Oklahoma where my nation -- The Chickasaw Nation -- is located. My interest in the well-being of American Indian people drives my research and teaching interests as well as my community involvement.

I have always enjoyed mathematics and science and working with computers. These interests eventually led to my obtaining my undergraduate degree in Computer Science from The George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science.

After college, I worked as a research scientist in a molecular genetics laboratory in the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. My research focused on the enzyme activity of the dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) enzyme of Plasmodium falciparum, the most serious form of malaria. DHFR is involved in DNA synthesis and is therefore a target of anti-malaria drugs.

A major concern of malaria treatment is that falciparum malaria will evolve to be resistant to drugs targeting the DHFR (and other) enzyme(s). These drug resistant parasites are thought to be "less fit" and therefore will only be observed when drugs are in use. Once drug pressure is removed (people stop using DHFR-targeting drugs), the drug resistant strains will disappear. Along with colleagues in Dr. Carol Sibley's laboratory, I demonstrated that the enzyme activity of DHFR mutants found in drug resistant malaria is not compromised in comparison with wild-type malaria. A future step in this research would be to assess the fitness of P. falciparum carrying mutant DHFR in culture. If these parasites are as fit as wild-type, this would be unfortunate evidence that removing drug pressure in malaria endemic areas would not reduce the number of parasites carrying mutant DHFR. For more information on my research in the Sibley lab, please see our published paper by clicking here.

While working in Seattle, I learned more about how I could apply my computational background to problems in malaria research as well as in the general field of biomedical sciences. In order to gain further training as a researcher and educator, I decided to go to graduate school to pursue my Ph.D. This decision led me to the University of Michigan Program in Biomedical Sciences and the Bioinformatics Graduate Program. Currently, I am finishing up my Ph.D. in the field of mathematical and computational biology under the mentorship of Dr. Santiago Schnell. Broadly, I am applying mathematical and computational methods to understand the mechanisms of protein aggregation. More information about my research interests may be found here.

Much of my time outside of the laboratory is spent working in the community. I serve as Secretary and Treasurer on the Board of Directors of American Indian Health and Family Services (AIHFS), an urban Indian health center located in Detroit, MI. I am on the Board of Directors of Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering Native youth. My wife and I founded Oshehoma Productions in order to help promote Native-owned non-profits and businesses on the Internet. At the university, I serve as student co-chair of the University of Michigan chapter of the Bouchet Honor Society. Members of the society are selected based on scholarship, leadership, character, as well as service and advocacy for students traditionally underrepresented in the academy.

In my free time, I try to be out of doors as much as possible, whether it be canoeing or fishing on the Huron river, hiking or hunting or mountain biking in one of Michigan's many state recreation areas, or in my backyard around the firepit with family and friends.

The Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation

The Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation