Dr. Vollmer-Snarr develops curricula, oversees instrumentation, and teaches organic and biological chemistry courses at Stanford’s Department of Chemistry. Her research interests include using GC–MS to understand chemical mechanisms of biological processes. She also uses biological mechanisms to teach fundamental organic chemistry in the classroom and laboratory, as well as in textbooks and online. Dr. Vollmer-Snarr is a co-author of organic chemistry textbooks and online organic chemistry resource materials.

Heidi R. Vollmer–Snarr was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She studied chemistry and German at the University of Utah (B.S. and B.A. 1997), where she participated in research efforts to synthesize taxinine, a structural analogue of Taxol®, in the lab of Prof. Frederick G. West. She completed doctoral study at the University of Oxford (Ph.D. 2000). In her thesis work under Prof. Sir Jack Baldwin, she synthesized two biologically active marine alkaloids. She then worked with Prof. Koji Nakanishi at Columbia University as an NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow. In 2002, she joined the faculty of Brigham Young University as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, conducting research involving bio-organic studies of age-related macular degeneration and developing targeted & triggered-drug delivery systems for cancer therapy. In 2013 she moved to Stanford University, where she works in the undergraduate teaching program to develop curricula, modernize the laboratory instrumentation, and teach lecture and laboratory courses.

Curriculum Development

While continuing to provide students a rigorous study of chemical bonding, reactivity, and synthesis, Dr. Vollmer-Snarr and colleagues are working to incorporate more examples from nature that specifically illustrate salient organic chemistry reactions and mechanisms. They are also developing integrative organic chemistry lecture–laboratories to optimize student understanding, performance, and appreciation for chemistry. Multiple lecture demonstrations have been added to likewise connect the theoretical to the practical chemistry experience for the students.


Dr. Vollmer–Snarr has been a key participant in the selection and purchase of new instrumentation to modernize the Stanford undergraduate chemistry program. Each undergraduate laboratory classroom is now equipped with GC–MS, diamond ATR IR, UV–vis spectrophotometers, and temperature-controlled hotplates. She has successfully developed novel experiments using these instruments that are currently being used throughout the organic and bio-organic chemistry curriculum. New experiments developed for the GC–MS include a plant oil biodiesel lab and a cytochrome p450 drug metabolism lab.

Scientific Consulting and Outreach

Dr. Vollmer–Snarr has served on the National Institutes of Health study section Small Business Sensory Technologies. She currently serves on the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs and Member Advocacy Subcommittee, where she educates ACS members and legislators on science policy issues. She is also an Alternate Councilor for the Santa Clara Valley local section of the ACS. At Stanford she serves as an advisor to chemistry majors and performs “Chemistry Magic Shows” for elementary and underprivileged middle school students.

Academic Appointments

Administrative Appointments

  • Organic Chemistry Texbook and Online Resources Co-Author, McGraw Hill (2012 - Present)
  • Organic Chemistry Co-Author, SmartWork resource for the Jones/Fleming Organic textbook, W.W. Norton (2012 - 2014)
  • Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, Brigham Young University (2010 - 2013)
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Utah, Salt Lake City (2010 - 2011)
  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Brigham Young University (2002 - 2009)

Honors & Awards

  • NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Columbia University (2001–2002)
  • NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Sloan Kettering Institute (2001)
  • Member, Phi Beta Kappa (1997–present)
  • Member, Phi Kappa Phi (1997–present)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Associate, Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs, American Chemical Society (2016 - Present)
  • Executive Committee Member, Santa Clara Valley chapter, American Chemical Society (2016 - Present)
  • Member, Small Business Sensory Technologies Study Section, National Institutes of Health (2010 - 2015)
  • Scientific Advisor, Gold Holdings, LLC (2009 - 2011)
  • Member, SBIR Visual Systems Special Emphasis Panel, National Institutes of Health (2004 - 2010)

Professional Education

  • Postdoc, Columbia University, Organic synthesis; Bio-organic studies of age-related macular degeneration (2002)
  • Postdoc, Sloan-Kettering Institute, Organic synthesis, carbohydrate chemistry, and natural product isolation (2001)
  • PhD, University of Oxford, Organic Chemistry (2000)
  • BS, BA, University of Utah, Chemistry with math emphasis, German (1997)

All Publications

  • Ocular hazards of blue-light therapy in dermatology JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY Walker, D. P., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Eberting, C. L. 2012; 66 (1): 130-135


    Blue-light phototherapy has become important in the treatment of many dermatologic conditions and as a result continue to be developed. Although blue-light therapy is successful, research shows that excessive ocular blue-light exposure may contribute to age-related macular degeneration and other vision problems. As blue-light therapy becomes increasingly more popular for clinical and at-home use, patients and operators of blue-light devices should be aware of its associated ocular hazards. Protective eyewear should be carefully selected and implemented with each therapy session to guard against the development of retinal disease.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jaad.2010.11.040

    View details for Web of Science ID 000298712100018

    View details for PubMedID 21536341

  • The age lipid A2E and mitochondrial dysfunction synergistically impair phagocytosis by retinal pigment epithelial cells JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Vives-Bauza, C., Anand, M., Shirazi, A. K., Magrane, J., Gao, J., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Manfredi, G., Finnemann, S. C. 2008; 283 (36): 24770-24780


    Accumulation of indigestible lipofuscin and decreased mitochondrial energy production are characteristic age-related changes of post-mitotic retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in the human eye. To test whether these two forms of age-related impairment have interdependent effects, we quantified the ATP-dependent phagocytic function of RPE cells loaded or not with the lipofuscin component A2E and inhibiting or not mitochondrial ATP synthesis either pharmacologically or genetically. We found that physiological levels of lysosomal A2E reduced mitochondrial membrane potential and inhibited oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) of RPE cells. Furthermore, in media with physiological concentrations of glucose or pyruvate, A2E significantly inhibited phagocytosis. Antioxidants reversed these effects of A2E, suggesting that A2E damage is mediated by oxidative processes. Because mitochondrial mutations accumulate with aging, we generated novel genetic cellular models of RPE carrying mitochondrial DNA point mutations causing either moderate or severe mitochondrial dysfunction. Exploring these mutant RPE cells we found that, by itself, only the severe but not the moderate OXPHOS defect reduces phagocytosis. However, sub-toxic levels of lysosomal A2E are sufficient to reduce phagocytic activity of RPE with moderate OXPHOS defect and cause cell death of RPE with severe OXPHOS defect. Taken together, RPE cells rely on OXPHOS for phagocytosis when the carbon energy source is limited. Our results demonstrate that A2E accumulation exacerbates the effects of moderate mitochondrial dysfunction. They suggest that synergy of sub-toxic lysosomal and mitochondrial changes in RPE cells with age may cause RPE dysfunction that is known to contribute to human retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration.

    View details for DOI 10.1074/jbc.M800706200

    View details for Web of Science ID 000258820000045

    View details for PubMedID 18621729

  • Amino-retinoid compounds in the human retinal pigment epithelium RETINAL DEGENERATIVE DISEASES Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Pew, M. R., Alvarez, M. L., Cameron, D. J., Chen, Z. B., Walker, G. L., Price, J. L., Swallow, J. L. 2006; 572: 69-74

    View details for Web of Science ID 000236276600011

    View details for PubMedID 17249557

  • Lipofuscin accumulation, abnormal electrophysiology, and photoreceptor degeneration in mutant ELOVL4 transgenic mice: A model for macular degeneration PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Karan, G., Lillo, C., Yang, Z., Cameron, D. J., Locke, K. G., Zhao, Y., Thirumalaichary, S., Li, C., Birch, D. G., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Williams, D. S., Zhang, K. 2005; 102 (11): 4164-4169


    Macular degeneration is a heterogeneous group of disorders characterized by photoreceptor degeneration and atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the central retina. An autosomal dominant form of Stargardt macular degeneration (STGD) is caused by mutations in ELOVL4, which is predicted to encode an enzyme involved in the elongation of long-chain fatty acids. We generated transgenic mice expressing a mutant form of human ELOVL4 that causes STGD. In these mice, we show that accumulation by the RPE of undigested phagosomes and lipofuscin, including the fluorophore, 2-[2,6-dimethyl-8-(2,6,6-trimethyl-1-cyclohexen-1-yl)-1E,3E,5E,7E-octatetraenyl]-1-(2-hyydroxyethyl)-4-[4-methyl-6-(2,6,6,-trimethyl-1-cyclohexen-1-yl)-1E,3E,5E-hexatrienyl]-pyridinium (A2E) is followed by RPE atrophy. Subsequently, photoreceptor degeneration occurs in the central retina in a pattern closely resembling that of human STGD and age-related macular degeneration. The ELOVL4 transgenic mice thus provide a good model for both STGD and dry age-related macular degeneration, and represent a valuable tool for studies on therapeutic intervention in these forms of blindness.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0407698102

    View details for Web of Science ID 000227731000051

    View details for PubMedID 15749821

  • A2E-epoxides damage DNA in retinal pigment epithelial cells - Vitamin E and other antioxidants inhibit A2E-epoxide formation JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Sparrow, J. R., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Zhou, J. L., Jang, Y. P., Jockusch, S., Itagaki, Y., Nakanishi, K. 2003; 278 (20): 18207-18213


    The autofluorescent pigments that accumulate in retinal pigment epithelial cells with aging and in some retinal disorders have been implicated in the etiology of macular degeneration. The major constituent is the fluorophore A2E, a pyridinium bisretinoid. Light-exposed A2E-laden retinal pigment epithelium exhibits a propensity for apoptosis with light in the blue region of the spectrum being most damaging. Efforts to understand the events precipitating the death of the cells have revealed that during irradiation (430 nm), A2E self-generates singlet oxygen with the singlet oxygen in turn reacting with A2E to generate epoxides at carbon-carbon double bonds. Here we demonstrate that A2E-epoxides, independent of singlet oxygen, exhibit reactivity toward DNA with oxidative base changes being at least one of these lesions. Mass spectrometry revealed that the antioxidants vitamins E and C, butylated hydroxytoluene, resveratrol, a trolox analogue (PNU-83836-E), and bilberry extract reduce A2E-epoxidation, whereas single cell gel electrophoresis and cell viability studies revealed a corresponding reduction in the incidence of DNA damage and cell death. Vitamin E, a lipophilic antioxidant, produced a more pronounced decrease in A2E-epoxidation than vitamin C, and treatment with both vitamins simultaneously did not confer additional benefit. Studies in which singlet oxygen was generated by endoperoxide in the presence of A2E revealed that vitamin E, butylated hydroxytoluene, resveratrol, the trolox analogue, and bilberry reduced A2E-epoxidation by quenching singlet oxygen. Conversely, vitamin C and ginkgolide B were not efficient quenchers of singlet oxygen under these conditions.

    View details for DOI 10.1074/jbc.M300457200

    View details for Web of Science ID 000182838300081

    View details for PubMedID 12646558

  • A2E, a fluorophore of RPE lipofuscin: Can it cause RPE degeneration? RETINAL DEGENERATIONS: MECHANISMS AND EXPERIMENTAL THERAPY Sparrow, J. R., Cai, B. L., Fishkin, N., Jang, Y. P., Krane, S., Vollmer, H. R., Zhou, J. L., Nakanishi, K. 2003; 533: 205-211

    View details for Web of Science ID 000186576800026

    View details for PubMedID 15180266

  • Involvement of oxidative mechanisms in blue-light-induced damage to A2E-laden RPE INVESTIGATIVE OPHTHALMOLOGY & VISUAL SCIENCE Sparrow, J. R., Zhou, J., Ben-Shabat, S., Vollmer, H., Itagaki, Y., Nakanishi, K. 2002; 43 (4): 1222-1227


    The lipofuscin fluorophore A2E is known to be an initiator of blue-light-induced apoptosis in retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of oxidative mechanisms in mediating the cellular damage.Human RPE (ARPE-19) cells that had accumulated A2E were exposed to blue light in the presence and absence of oxygen, and nonviable cells were quantified. Potential suppressors (histidine, azide, 1,4-diazabicyclooctane [DABCO], and 1,3-dimethyl-2-thiourea [DMTU]) and enhancers (deuterium oxide [D(2)O] and 3-aminotriazole [3-AT]) of oxidative damage, were also screened for their ability to modulate the frequency of nonviable cells. A2E in PBS, with and without an oxygen-depleter or singlet-oxygen quencher and A2E-laden RPE, were exposed to 430-nm light and examined by reversed-phase high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry (FAB-MS).The death of blue-light-illuminated A2E-laden RPE was blocked in oxygen-depleted media. When A2E-laden RPE were transferred to D(2)O-based media and then irradiated (480 nm), the number of nonviable cells was increased, whereas the latter was decreased in the presence of histidine, DABCO, and azide. Conversely, no affect was observed with 3-AT and DMTU. When A2E, in either acellular or cellular environments, was irradiated at 430 nm, FAB-MS revealed the generation of a series of higher molecular mass derivatives of A2E. The sizes of these species increased by increments of mass 16. The generation of these photo-products was accompanied by the consumption of A2E, the latter being diminished, however, when illumination was performed after oxygen depletion and in the presence of a singlet-oxygen quencher.The augmentation of cell death in the presence of D(2)O and the protection afforded by quenchers and scavengers of singlet oxygen, indicates that the generation of singlet oxygen may be involved in the mechanisms leading to the death of A2E-containing RPE cells after blue light illumination. The finding that irradiation also produces oxygen-dependent photochemical changes in A2E, indicates that the effects of singlet oxygen may be mediated either directly or through the generation of reactive photo-products of A2E.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000174700900043

    View details for PubMedID 11923269

  • Biosynthetic studies of A2E, a major fluorophore of retinal pigment epithelial lipofuscin JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Ben-Shabat, S., Parish, C. A., Vollmer, H. R., Itagaki, Y., Fishkin, N., Nakanishi, K., Sparrow, J. R. 2002; 277 (9): 7183-7190


    We have examined questions related to the biosynthesis of A2E, a fluorophore that accumulates in retinal pigment epithelial cells with aging and in some retinal disorders. The use of in vitro preparations revealed that detectable levels of A2-PE, the A2E precursor, are formed within photoreceptor outer segments following light-induced release of endogenous all-trans-retinal. Moreover, experiments in vivo demonstrated that the formation of A2-PE in photoreceptor outer segment membrane was augmented by exposing rats to bright light. Whereas the generation of A2E from A2-PE by acid hydrolysis was found to occur very slowly, the detection in outer segments of a phosphodiesterase activity that can convert A2-PE to A2E may indicate that some portion of the A2-PE that forms in the outer segment membrane may undergo hydrolytic cleavage before internalization by the retinal pigment epithelial cell. The identities of additional minor components of retinal pigment epithelium lipofuscin, A2E isomers with cis olefins at positions other than the C13-C14 double bond, are also described.

    View details for DOI 10.1074/jbc.M108981200

    View details for Web of Science ID 000174104300057

    View details for PubMedID 11756445

  • Stereoselective Nazarov cyclizations of bridged bicyclic dienones ORGANIC LETTERS Mazzola, R. D., White, T. D., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., West, F. G. 2005; 7 (13): 2799-2801


    [reaction: see text] Bridged bicyclic dienones underwent silyl-directed Nazarov cyclization with generally very high diastereoselectivity. In most cases, a strong preference for cyclization to the product with an exo-disposed cyclopentenone was seen. However, the presence of additional unsaturation in the three-carbon bridge of a bicyclo[3.2.1]octadiene system caused complete reversal in selectivity with exclusive formation of the endo-cyclopentenone. The observed selectivities are believed to result from a combination of steric and electronic effects.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/ol051169q

    View details for Web of Science ID 000229952100071

    View details for PubMedID 15957950

  • Photochemistry of A1E, a retinold with a conjugated pyridinium moiety: Competition between pericyclic photooxygenation and pericyclization JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY Jockusch, S., Ren, R. X., Jang, Y. P., Itagaki, Y., Vollmer-Snarr, H. R., Sparrow, J. R., Nakanishi, K., Turro, N. J. 2004; 126 (14): 4646-4652


    The photochemistry of the retinoid analogue A1E shows an oxygen and solvent dependence. Irradiation of A1E with visible light (lambda(irr) = 425 nm) in methanol solutions resulted in pericyclization to form pyridinium terpenoids. Although the quantum yield for this cyclization is low (approximately 10(-4)), nevertheless the photochemical transformation occurs with quantitative chemical yield with remarkable chemoselectivity and diastereoselectivity. Conversely, irradiation of A1E under the same irradiation conditions in air-saturated carbon tetrachloride or deuterated chloroform produced a cyclic 5,8-peroxide as the major product. Deuterium solvent effects, experiments utilizing endoperoxide, phosphorescence, and chemiluminescence quenching studies strongly support the involvement of singlet oxygen in the endoperoxide formation. It is proposed that, upon irradiation, in the presence of oxygen, A1E acts as a sensitizer for generation of singlet oxygen from triplet oxygen present in the solution; the singlet oxygen produced reacts with A1E to produce cyclic peroxide. Thus, the photochemistry of A1E is characterized by two competing reactions, cyclization and peroxide formation. The dominant reaction is determined by the concentration of oxygen, the concentration of A1E, and the lifetime of singlet oxygen in the solvent employed. If the lifetime of singlet oxygen in a given solvent is long enough, then oxidation (peroxide formation) is the major reaction. If the singlet oxygen produced is quenched by the protonated solvent molecules faster than singlet oxygen reacts with A1E, then cyclization dominates.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/ja039048d

    View details for Web of Science ID 000220752300050

    View details for PubMedID 15070381

  • Substrate specificity of NovM: Implications for novobiocin biosynthesis and glycorandomization ORGANIC LETTERS Albermann, C., Soriano, A., Jiang, J. Q., Vollmer, H., Biggins, J. B., Barton, W. A., Lesniak, J., Nikolov, D. B., Thorson, J. S. 2003; 5 (6): 933-936


    [reaction: see text] In an effort to expand the scope of natural product in vitro glycorandomization (IVG), the substrate specificity of NovM was investigated. A test of four aglycon analogues and over 40 nucleotide sugars revealed NovM has a surprisingly stringent substrate specificity and provided only three new "unnatural" natural products. On the basis of the determined substrate specificity, an alternative to the sugar nucleotide biosynthetic dogma and a cautionary note for the general applicability of IVG are introduced.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/ol0341086

    View details for Web of Science ID 000181586500039

    View details for PubMedID 12633109

  • Total synthesis of cytotoxic sponge alkaloids Motuporamines A and B TETRAHEDRON LETTERS Baldwin, J. E., Vollmer, H. R., Lee, V. 1999; 40 (29): 5401-5404
  • (4-tolylsulfonyl) hydrazones Synlett Vollmer, H. R. 1999; 11 (1844 )

    View details for DOI 10.1055/s-1999-5996