Dr. Daniel Wacker is an Assistant Professor of pharmacological science and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He is originally from Germany.
From 2014 to 2018, he conducted postdoctoral research as a Fellow with the Roth Lab at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Prior to earning his biology PhD in 2013 from Scripps Research Institute, Dr. Wacker worked as a Research Assistant at Rockefeller University. He completed internships at Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom and at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München (University of Munich). He received a BS in Chemistry and a MS in Biophysics and Biochemistry at the University of Munich in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Dr. Wacker also directs the Wacker Lab at Icahn. He and his team study the molecular structure and mechanics of serotonin receptors and neurotransmitter transporters with the help of advanced screening technology such as cryogenic electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, and assays. Their research offers insight into how different drugs and neurotransmitters bind to –or stabilize– receptors to generate various physiological impacts. Armed with a clearer understanding of these structural interactions, Dr. Wacker’s team works to design and develop specific drug compounds for therapeutically significant biochemical targets.
While at UNC-CH, Dr. Wacker co-authored two important publications of psychedelic research in Cell. He was the lead author of a January 2017 article on the Roth Lab’s discovery of the crystal structure of LSD bound to 5-HT2B receptor.1 Psychedelic Science Review later covered the study, which illuminated the reasons behind LSD’s enduring effects. In a public release from Cell Press, Dr. Wacker stated,
I think it’s important for the pharmaceutical industry to understand that even if you modify just one tiny aspect of any compound, you may affect the way the entire compound sits in the receptor, and that affects the compound’s performance.
The Roth Lab subsequently mapped the crystal structure of LSD bound to a related but distinct human 5-HT2A receptor.2 Dr. Wacker co-authored the accompanying paper published in Cell in January 2020. A two-part article in Psychedelic Science Review describes the study (read Part 1 here). A demo presentation of these findings by Dr. Wacker is available on HSTalks.
Dr. Wacker also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd based in Japan.