Dr. Susan Keenan, School Director

Susan Keenan

Previous positions

  • Postdoc: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (2001-2006)


  • Ph.D.: Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences, St. Louis University Medical School (1997-2001)
  • B.A.: Chemistry, University of Missouri, St. Louis (1994-1997)

Contact information

  • E-mail: susan.keenan@unco.edu
  • Phone: (970) 351-2510
  • Fax: (970) 351-2335
  • Office: Ross Hall 2480C
  • Office hours: by appointment

Courses Taught

  • BIO 102 Success in Biology
  • BIO 110 Principles of Biology
  • BIO 425/525 Molecular Genetics
  • BIO 450/550 Cell Physiology
  • BIO 556 Current Topics in Biomedical Research

Research Interests and Professional Activities

Much of the world population is socially and economically burdened as a result of mosquito-borne diseases. According to the CDC, in 2010 216 million cases of malaria were reported and over 650,000 people died as a result of this parasitic disease which disproportionally affects children and pregnant women. Unfortunately drug resistance has been observed against all currently used antimalarials including the last weapon in the world's drug arsenal, artemisinin combination therapy (ACT)—so unless novel drug targets are identified the impact of this devastating disease will rise. Flaviviruses are also transmitted by mosquitoes and we focus on a number of diseases caused by this family of viruses including yellow fever, Dengue Fever and West Nile. With more than a third of the world population at risk of infection by Dengue virus, the endemic nature of West Nile in the US and the serious morbidity and mortality that flaviviruses cause each year, it is devastating that there are currently no therapeutics clinically available for the treatment of any flavivirus disease.

In the lab, we combine molecular biological, pharmacological and computational modeling approaches to address problems linking protein structure with small molecule activity—that is to say we identify novel inhibitors that could one day be developed into drugs and used to treat these diseases. We focus on kinases and the flaviviral capping enzyme as novel targets for dug design and—and I am happy to say we are making progress.

I am currently recruiting a graduate student to work with the group—so please contact me if our work is of interest.

Recent publicity for our work

Funding, Awards and Professional Honors

Development and Optimization of Novel Anti-Flavivirus Compounds
NIH-NIAID Rocky Mountain Regional Centers of Excellence
Total Funds: $1,376,400

SAR Analysis of Novel Anti-Flaviviral Compounds
Colorado Center for Drug Discovery
Total Funds $54,000

Development and Optimization of Novel Anti-Flavivirus Compounds
NIH-NIAID Rocky Mountain Regional Centers of Excellence U54 AI-065357 (Competitive. New Research Project)
Total funds $300,000

Computer-Aided Identification of Novel Flavivirus Antiviral Compounds
NIH-NIAID Rocky Mountain Regional Centers of Excellence U54 AI-065357
Total funds $150,000 (Competitive renewal of 1U54 A1065357)

High Throughput Screening for Novel Antivirals
NRSB (National Screening Laboratory, Harvard Medical School (NERCE)
Initial funding to screen 50,000 compounds (2007), extended for an additional 235,000 compounds (2008, Co-PI).

Computer-Aided Identification of Novel Flavivirus Antiviral Compounds
NIH-NIAID Mountain Regional Centers of Excellence 1U54 A1065357
Total funds $150,000

Multifunctional Biomaterial Conjugates as Next-Generation Antimalarial Drugs
Center for Military Biomaterials Research,. Total Funds $450,000

NRSA, NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship

Recent Publications (2009-date; total 29)

(name indicates a UNC graduate student as a co-author, name indicates a UNC undergraduate student as a co-author, * indicates corresponding author)

Stahla-Beek HJ, April DG, Saeedi BJ, Hannah AM, Keenan SM*, Geiss BJ. Identification of a novel antiviral inhibitor of the flavivirus guanylyltransferase enzyme. J Virol. 2012 86(16):8730-9

Geiss BJ, Stahla-Beek HJ, Hannah AM, Gari HH, Henderson BR, Saeedi BJ, Keenan SM*. A high-throughput screening assay for the identification of flavivirus NS5 capping enzyme GTP-binding inhibitors: implications for antiviral drug development. J Biomol Screen. 2011 Sep;16(8):852-61.

Jirage D, Keenan SM, Waters NC. Exploring novel targets for antimalarial drug discovery: plasmodial protein kinases. Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2010 Jun;10(3):134-46. Review.

Peng Y, Zhang Q, Arora S, Keenan SM, Kortagere S, Wannemacher KM, Howells, RD and Welsh WJ. Novel delta opioid receptor agonists exhibit differential stimulation of signaling pathways. Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. 17(17): 6442-50, 2009

Geyer JA, Keenan SM, Woodard CL, Thompson PA , Gerena L, Nichols DA, Gutteridge CE, and Waters NC. Selective Inhibition of Pfmrk, a Plasmodium falciparum CDK, by Antimalarial 1,3-Diaryl-2-Propenones. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry. 19(7): 1982-5, 2009

Geiss BJ, Stahla H, Hannah MJ, Gari HH and Keenan SM*. Focus on Flaviviruses: Current and Future Drug Targets. Future Medicinal Chemistry. Invited Review. 2 (1): 327-344, 2009

Arora S, Wang XI, Keenan SM, Andaya C, Zhang Q, Peng Y, and Welsh WJ. Novel tubulin polymerization inhibitor with potent antimitotic activity. Cancer Research, .69(5): 1910-5, 2009

Geiss BJ, Thompson AA, Thompson AJ, Sons RL, Gari, HH, Keenan SM and Peersen OB. Analysis of flavivirus NS5 methyltransferase cap binding. Journal of Molecular Biology. 385(5): 1643-54, 2009

Book chapters

Jirage D, Keenan SM and Waters NC. Targeting the malaria kinome; discovering kinase inhibitors as novel anti-malarial agents. In Antiparasitic and Antibacterial Drug Discovery: From Molecular Targets to Drug Candidates (Drug Discovery in Infectious Diseases) Editor: Dr. Paul M. Selzer, Publisher: Wiley, 2009 (ISBN-13: 978-3527323272)


Submission of Provisional Patent: Brian J Geiss, Susan M. Keenan and Stahla-Beek, HJ Identification of a Novel Antiviral Inhibitor of the Flavivirus Guanylyltransferase Enzyme (2012)

Compositions and Methods for the Discovery of Novel Na, K-ATPase Inhibitors for the Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases and Conditions (November 2002) William J. Welsh, Susan M. Keenan, Robert K. DeLisle and William J. Ball Jr.

Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of a Series of Novel Combrestatinin A-4 Analogues with Potent Cytotoxicity and Anti-Tubulin Polymerization Activities: Implications for Cancer Chemotherapy (Patent Pending) William J. Welsh, Susan M. Keenan, Youyi Peng, Xin Wang, Qiang Zhang

Activated Cdc42-associated kinase (ACK) as therapeutic target for Ras-induced. Alam Nur-E-Kamal, Ailing Zhang, William J. Welsh, Susan M. Keenan, Xin Wang

Discovery of Novel Delta-Opioid Receptor Selective Compounds as Clinically Significant Therapeutic Agents. William J. Welsh, Susan M. Keenan, Youyi Peng, Xin, Qiang Zhang