Proteins, an indispensable component orchestrating crucial bodily functions from the heartbeat to digestion, have been long studied. But a central mystery remains: How exactly do they carry out their life-maintaining activities?

Through groundbreaking research in the structure and dynamics of proteins and other large molecules, Mark Chance, the School of Medicine’s vice dean for research, is illuminating the details behind the scene.

For his work and extraordinary record supporting Case Western Reserve faculty and students, Chance will receive the Distinguished University Professorship during fall convocation Aug. 30 in Severance Hall. The designation “acknowledges the outstanding contributions of full-time, tenured professors with a distinguished academic record of extraordinary research, scholarship, teaching and service.”

“My mission,” he said, “is to find out how these entities move and interact in crucial biological processes.”

Chance used an analogy to further explain his research focus: If you saw a car sitting in a driveway, you wouldn’t know what the individual parts did unless you saw the vehicle in motion. “My work allows us to move from a static picture to a unified system in action, such that we understand how the engine, brakes and accelerator all work together,” he said.

His interest in proteins began in his teens, while working in the University of Pennsylvania lab of his uncle, Britton Chance, a pioneer in the fields of biochemistry and biophysics, including early use of near-infrared optics for understanding muscle dynamics, cognition and the clinical diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I helped with the science, ran errands, and caused a bit of trouble,” he said. “My uncle was my first mentor and has been my scientific role model ever since.”

Today, Mark Chance, too, is recognized as a pioneer, having invented protein footprinting, a spectrometry-based method of biochemical analysis enabling visualization of protein folding and dynamics on millisecond timescales with high resolution—essentially movies of these vital processes in real time.

Users of his technologies and associated facilities have published over 2,000 papers worldwide. Chance himself has published more than 100 papers in the field since he invented the basic technology, including novel studies of the structure and function of the cytoskeleton: the inner structural elements—or backbone—of the cell. This past year, his accomplishments earned him election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a chemistry fellow.

An inveterate collaborator, he has teamed with faculty members throughout the university on cross-disciplinary research, including seminal work identifying genetic signatures of colon and brain cancer with Sandy Markowitz from the Department of Medicine and Mehmet Koyuturk from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In 2012, Chance received funding from the National Science Foundation to build a facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, for developing and disseminating his technology nationally.

Chance also established the CWRU Center for Proteomics, the setting for a range of research, from the structural biology and dynamics of membrane proteins, to immune activation and vaccine development in HIV, to collaboration with the School of Dental Medicine in examining oral peptides for immune defense.

Chance is also the Charles W. and Iona A. Mathias Professor of Cancer Research, professor of nutrition and genetics/genome sciences and director of the Systems Biology & Bioinformatics graduate program.

His collaborative bent well suits his many roles at CWRU. “I’m as ardent about helping others carry out their best possible research as I am about conducting my own investigations,” he said. “When our scientists achieve breakthroughs, win professional recognition and bring therapies to the marketplace, CWRU, as a whole, benefits. That brings enormous satisfaction.”