New director to hold joint appointments in social work, counseling and counseling psychology

Frank Dillon has been named the new director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy

July 23, 2021

Frank Dillon is the new director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy in the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.

Dillon’s appointment to the directorship, as well as a joint appointment in Arizona State University's School of Social Work and in counseling and counseling psychology at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, became effective July 1. Frank Dillon, CABHP, SIRC, School of Social Work, counseling, counseling psychology, CISA, Watts College, Frank Dillon, director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy in the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center. ASU photo Download Full Image

“Our school is very fortunate to have Dr. Frank Dillon join us as the new director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy within SIRC,” said School of Social Work Director Elizabeth Lightfoot. “His research focus on health and mental health disparities, with a particular interest in issues facing the Latinx population and sexual minorities, fits perfectly with the mission of the School of Social Work. I look forward to working with him.”

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center and the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy are both housed in the School of Social Work, which is based in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The two centers integrated in February 2021 to strengthen their research capacities and community partnerships.

Dillon will work from the centers' offices at the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix.

Dillon said he is mainly interested in building from the strong foundation established by his director predecessors, Natasha Mendoza and Michael Shafer.

“(The center) is known as the center to look toward for behavioral health-related program evaluation and research in Phoenix. I’d like to continue growing that,” said Dillon, who plans to continue with the center’s training initiatives. These would provide an opportunity to train local behavioral health workforce organizations as well as be a resource for the university in training needs, he said.

Dillon said he had a similar joint appointment at Florida International University where he became a tenured associate professor at the university’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work earlier in his career. After Florida International University, he returned to his roots in counseling psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, before coming to ASU in 2017.

“Now I have a joint appointment that finally integrates the two,” he said.

ASU student first author on dynamic water-protein interactions research article

Online School of Molecular Sciences student quantifies impact of water and entropy on peptide conformational fluctuations

July 23, 2021

In the world of large, macroscopic objects, it is often easy to understand what and why something is happening. For example, water flows downhill due to the presence of gravity and the decrease in potential energy. On the molecular level, however, additional factors, such as entropy, must be considered to understand the outcome of events. This is especially the case for biomolecular processes that involve many moving parts, whose interactions with each other determine the overall change in potential energy and entropy.

In biological systems, proteins interact with water located within or between cells. To better understand these interactions, ASU online School of Molecular Sciences alumna Tawny Fajardo and School of Molecular Sciences Assistant Professor Matthias Heyden, through computer simulations of a small peptide, studied the underlying components of the potential energy and entropy that determine the peptide’s structural and dynamical properties. Model of water molecules interacting with protein Model of water molecules interacting with protein. Download Full Image

Their results are published in "Dissecting the Conformational Free Energy of a Small Peptide in Solution" in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Fajardo, first author of this paper, at the time of the study was an online undergraduate student in the online School of Molecular Sciences biochemistry program. The computer simulations were carried out remotely utilizing ASU’s Research Computing infrastructure. 

Using all-atom simulations of a small peptide (essentially a mini-protein) in water, they analyzed changes of the peptide’s conformation and corresponding changes in potential energy and entropy. Combining multiple techniques, these changes were further broken down into distinct contributions. Interactions between the peptide and surrounding water were found to strongly influence which peptide conformations are likely to be observed and how frequent transitions between distinct conformations can be expected. Despite the simplicity of the studied system, their results reveal the critical role of water as the universal solvent of biomolecular processes.

“Our study provides an example for the decomposition of thermodynamic driving forces in a biomolecular system,” Heyden said. “Applied to more complex systems, our approach may improve our future understanding of complex biochemical processes and enhance our ability to design artificial enzymes or drugs with high affinity and specificity for their targets.”

Tijana Rajh, director of the School of Molecular Sciences, said, “This study is a testimony to the quality of our online program. The role of water in structural conformations of proteins and protein functioning is one of the long-standing problems in various fields ranging from natural photosynthesis to cancer studies. It is noteworthy that our online program has given the necessary tools to an undergraduate student to tackle such a complex and important problem.”

Future research will build on the insights and methods developed for this project to understand the driving forces of biochemical processes involving biomolecular machines and enzymes, which are key to biological life.

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences