Loyola University Chicago

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Faculty & Staff

Olsen, Ken

Title/s:  Emeritus Professor

Office #:  FH-409

Phone: 773.508.3121



  • B.S. with honors, 1967, Iowa State University
  • Ph.D., 1972, Duke University
  • American Cancer Society Post-Doctoral Fellow, 1972-1975, Purdue University
  • Visiting Scholar, 1992, Harvard University; 2003, Northwestern University; 2006, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Interests

Our research focuses on three exciting areas of protein science. The first is the development of polymeric hemoglobins as potential blood substitutes. The second is to develop cancer-targeted photodynamic therapy agents. The third focus is to understand protein-ligand interactions through molecular dynamics simulations.

We are synthesizing polymers of hemoglobin that include antioxidant enzymes (catalase and superoxide dismutase) to be used as blood substitutes. The syntheses depend on complimentary sulfhydryl - maleimide chemistry to produce specific complexes. After we synthesize the complexes, size exclusion chromatography, oxygen binding, thermal denaturation and autoxidation experiments are done to determine the properties of the polymer. In vivo testing is done for polymers that have promising properties.

The second area of interest in the laboratory is targeted photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT requires light, a photosensitizer and oxygen to produce singlet oxygen that can kill the cell. We are using folate to target specific cancer cell types with PDT agents. We are incorporating hemoglobin into some of the agents to increase the oxygen availability in the target cells. This approach should dramatically decrease side-effects of treatment because it features a double selectivity. Only the tumor cells will take up the PDT agent and the light is only shone on the tumor. The research is interdisciplinary and involves organic synthesis, protein chemistry, cell culture and confocal microscopy.

We are using molecular dynamics simulations to understand the interaction of proteins with ligands. Specifically, we are studying plant and bacterial globins that bind small ligands, like O2, NO and H2S, to determine the pathways for binding and escape from the heme site. We are using three computational techniques (conjugate peak refinement, locally enhanced sampling and implicit ligand sampling) to find these pathways. We study both normal and mutant proteins in collaboration with research groups around the world that do kinetic measurements on these species.

Selected Publications

Current publications via PubMed.

Diane Silva, Kenneth W. Olsen, Magdalena N. Bednarz, Andrew Droste, Christopher P. Lenkeit, Edwin Chaharbakhshi, Emily R. Temple-Wood, Jennifer C. Jemc, Regulation of Gonad Morphogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster by BTB Family Transcription Factors, PLOS ONE (2016) 11(11): e0167283. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167283

Kyle D. Webster, Dana Dahhan, Abigail M. Otto, Cheyanne L. Frosti, William L. Dean, Jonathan B. Chaires and Kenneth W. Olsen, “Inside-Out” PEGylation of Bovine β-Cross-Linked Hemoglobin, Artif. Organs (2017) 41: 351-358.

Ana C. Ebrecht,  Ligin Solamen, Benjamin L. Hill, Alberto A. Iglesias, Kenneth W. Olsen and Miguel A. Ballicora: Allosteric Control of Substrate Specificity of the Escherichia coli ADP-Glucose Pyrophosphorylase, Frontiers Chem. 5 doi: 10.3389/fchem.2017.00041 (2017)

RoJenia N. Jones, Stephanie A. Erhard, Mark R. Malham, Ayaz Y. Gen, Kyle Sullivan, Kenneth W. Olsen, Rodney M. Dale, Expression and characterization of the zebrafish orthologue of the human FOLR1 gene during embryogenesis, Gene Expression Patterns, 25-26: 159-166 (2017).

Tahirah K. Heath, Marlon R. Lutz, Jr., Cory T. Reidl, Estefany R. Guzman, Claire A. Herbert, Boguslaw P. Nocek, Richard C. Holz, Kenneth W. Olsen, Miguel A. Ballicora, Daniel P. Becker, Practical spectrophotometric assay for the dapE-encoded N-succinyl-L,L-diaminopimelic acid desuccinylase, a potential antibiotic target, PLOS One, April 26, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196010

Matthew Najor, Brian D. Leverson, Jesse L. Goossens, Said Kothawala, Kenneth W. Olsen and Duarte Mota de Freitas, Folding of Gα Subunits: Implications for Disease States, ACS Omega, 3: 12320-12329 (2018)

Rachel L. Kooistra, Robin David, Ana C. Ruiz, Sean W. Powers, Kyle J. Haselton, Kaitlyn Kiernan, Andrew M. Blagborough, Ligin Solamen, Kenneth W. Olsen, Catherine Putonti, Stefan M. Kanzok, , Characterization of a protozoan Phosducinlike protein-3 (PhLP-3) reveals conserved redox activity, PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209699 December 31, 2018

Jaina A. Bhayani, Benjamin L. Hill, Anisha Sharma, Alberto A. Iglesias, Kenneth W. Olsen, and Miguel A. Ballicora, Mapping of a regulatory site of the Escherichia coli ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, 25 September 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmolb.2019.00089