Medicinal Chemistry Professor Amy Anderson Dies

A candle burning.
Amy Anderson with bacteria on plates on Jan. 23, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Amy Anderson, professor of medicinal chemistry and head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)

Amy Anderson, professor of medicinal chemistry and head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the UConn School of Pharmacy, died July 17 at UConn Health John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington. She was 47. Amy was born in Worcester, Mass. and raised in Westborough and Princeton, Mass.

She received a BS in the life sciences from MIT, a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-San Francisco.

Anderson was a brilliant scientist who used structural biology to study the shapes of protein molecules to guide drug design. She published more than 80 research papers and was an inventor on several patents.

Her career was dedicated to the treatment of drug-resistant pathogens, especially the so-called “superbugs,” such as K. pneumoniae and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. She and her husband, UConn professor Dennis Wright, worked closely together for more than a decade with a team of outstanding students to develop a new class of experimental antibiotics to treat these infections.

Her work has also helped explain how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Anderson developed a mathematical algorithm to help scientists identify drug resistant mutations and to synthesize a compounds that can overcome the resistance.

Her many honors included the Connecticut Technology Council’s Woman of Innovation in Research award and the UConn Provost’s Special Achievement Award. She was recently elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. In 2015, she was included in the list of 100 Inspiring Women of STEM in Insight into Diversity magazine. She chaired the Gordon Research Conference on Drug Resistance and was a member of the NIH study section on Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Anderson was also a dedicated and effective educator in the classroom and in the laboratory. She was an inspiring mentor and an outstanding role model for young women in science. Two of her mentees were honored by the Connecticut Technology Council as Women of Innovation.

Anderson was interested in science from a very young age, and she credits her parents for helping to get her first job in science. They introduced her to a biochemistry professor who directed a laboratory and provided her first exposure to research. While collaborating on antibiotic research at Dartmouth College, Amy met the love of her life, Dennis Wright. In 2005, they married and moved to Storrs, where they embarked on their teaching careers at UConn and became parents of two boys.

She was a fabulous baker, often baking muffins with her sons Evan and Dean and using a rolling pin made by her father, Doug Anderson, and her grandmother’s breadboard. She particularly enjoyed cooking exotic spicy Indian and Thai dishes. She was a gifted classical and blues pianist and took great joy in teaching piano to her children. One of her most beloved times was reading stories with her boys at bedtime each night. She loved family vacations and looked forward to her annual pilgrimage and retreat to North Truro on Cape Cod. Last year, she fulfilled her longtime dream of vacationing with her family at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. She was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend and will be remembered for her tenacious and optimistic nature.

Anderson is survived by her husband Dennis L. Wright and their sons, Evan Bailey and Dean Stanton Wright; her parents, Douglas and Joyce Anderson; her brother, Mark Anderson, and his wife, Jennifer, and their children; aunts, uncles, and cousins; and her cat, “Sam.”

A memorial service honoring her life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, in the First Congregational Church of Princeton, 14 Mountain Rd., Princeton, Mass. Interment will follow at Woodlawn Cemetery in Princeton. A second memorial service at UConn is planned for late summer. Memorial contributions may be made to the Mansfield Public Library, 54 Warrenville Road, Mansfield Center, CT 06250. To share a memory or offer a condolence, please visit www.milesfuneralhome.com.