May 2011

Member Update


Clore receives Hillebrand Prize

G. Marius Clore, chief of the protein NMR section at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, received the Hillebrand Prize from the Chemical Society of Washington section of the American Chemical Society.

The annual award for original contributions to the science of chemistry by CSW members is named for William F. Hillebrand, one of Washington’s most distinguished chemists.

Clore’s research focuses on solution studies on the structure and dynamics of proteins, protein-protein complexes and protein-nucleic acid complexes using multidimensional NMR spectroscopy and on the development and application of novel NMR and computational methods to aid in these studies. Specifically, he studies complexes involved in signal transduction and transcriptional regulation and on AIDS and AIDS-related proteins. In addition to his NMR work, Clore also is engaged in a major effort relating to the development of potential HIV Env-mediated fusion inhibitors and vaccines using chimeric gp41 proteins designed on the basis of the NMR structure of gp41 solved in his laboratory.

Fuchs named 2011 Passano laureate

Elaine Fuchs, a world leader in skin biology and its human genetic disorders, will receive the Passano Prize for her landmark contributions to skin biology and its disorders, including genetic syndromes, stem cells and cancers.

Fuchs, who is Rebecca C. Lancefield professor and head of the laboratory of mammalian cell biology and development at Rockefeller University, also is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her work has provided insights into our understanding of how stem cells of all types are able to rejuvenate tissues throughout life and also repair them after injury. Fuchs currently is trying to understand how the multipotent stem cells of mammalian skin give rise to the epidermis and hair follicles.

The Passano Foundation, founded in 1945, is devoted to encouraging medical science and research, particularly activities that have broad impact and clinical application. More than 20 of the Passano award winners have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

Photo credit: Susan Band Horwitz.Horwitz receives Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research

Susan Band Horwitz, the Rose C. Falkenstein professor of cancer research and co-chair of the department of molecular pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, is the recipient of the eighth American Association for Cancer Research Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research.

Horwitz, who also is the associate director for therapeutics at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, discovered the mechanism of action of the chemotherapeutic drug paclitaxel (Taxol), which prompted the development of this drug as an important therapy for many common solid tumors, including ovarian, breast and lung carcinomas. Her work also has contributed to the understanding of how microtubules function in normal and malignant cells and why stabilization of microtubules is a promising target for drug discovery. Horwitz’s current research focuses on issues surrounding a variety of new natural products that share a similar mechanism to paclitaxel but also have differences that may enhance their therapeutic value.

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established in 2004 to honor an individual who has made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research either through a single scientific discovery or a body of work. These contributions, whether they have been in research, leadership or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer.

Jordan awarded prize for breast cancer research

V. Craig Jordan, scientific director at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center, has received the St. Gallen Breast Cancer Award in Clinical Breast Cancer Research for his contributions to developing the scientific principles used in the effective antihormonal adjuvant therapy for early breast cancer.

The Swiss prize recognizes Jordan’s strategy of targeting the estrogen receptor and administering long-term (five-year) adjuvant tamoxifen therapy resulting in increased patient survivorship around the world. Millions of women continue to benefit from the use of tamoxifen.

To celebrate Jordan’s prize, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Don Beyer, is hosting an event in his honor at the ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.

The St. Gallen Breast Cancer Award is given every two years to a scientist who has made exceptional contributions to the field of breast cancer research.

Poulter honored with Nakanishi Prize

C. Dale Poulter, the John A. Widtsoe distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, has been awarded the 2011 Nakanishi Prize from the American Chemical Society.

The prize, which recognizes significant work that extends chemical and spectroscopic methods to the study of important biological phenomena, was established in 1995 by the students and colleagues of Koji Nakanishi.

Poulter studies the reactions catalyzed by enzymes in the isoprene biosynthetic pathway with special emphasis on establishing the mechanisms of the enzyme-catalyzed transformations and how the enzymes promote the reactions. One of the most important isoprenoid reactions Poulter has studied is protein prenylation, in which isoprenoids attach to soluble proteins. This interaction allows the proteins to bind to cellular membranes and thus become pivotal in signal transduction networks.

Recently, Poulter has been investigating the link between modern enzymes and a common ancestor. He has found that by perturbing some isoprenoid enzymes he is able to make them lose their characteristic selectivity. Thus, by intermixing parts of two different isoprenoid enzymes or eliminating their cofactors, he is able to make new enzymes that lack selectivity and then identify the amino acid changes required to restore selectivity.

“Simply put, Poulter, for almost four decades, has continuously been the single scientist with the largest impact in deciphering the logic and mechanism by which nature assembles isoprenoid natural products,” commented Christopher T. Walsh, a professor at Harvard Medical School, in C&E News.

Silverman wins award for discoveries in medicinally active substances

Richard B. Silverman, John Evans professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, has been awarded the American Chemical Society’s E.B. Hershberg Award for Important Discoveries in Medicinally Active Substances.

Silverman is best known for his synthesis of pregabalin, a glutamate decarboxylase activator that was marketed as Lyrica and approved to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain. Silverman has made other important contributions to the field of medicinal chemistry, including the discovery of a GABA aminotransferase inhibitor that is 300 times more potent in treating addiction than the currently marketed anticonvulsant vigabatrin. Silverman also has designed several neuronal nitric oxide synthase blockers that have shown strong activity in a rabbit model of cerebral palsy.

The biennial Hershberg Award is meant to recognize and encourage outstanding discoveries in the chemistry of medicinally active substances. The award was established in 1988 by Merck & Co. Inc. (formerly Schering-Plough Research Institute) to honor the contributions of Emanuel B. Hershberg to the pharmaceutical industry, especially the application of organic chemistry for the discovery and development of novel drugs.

Vocadlo wins E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Simon Fraser University chemistry professor David Vocadlo is one of six recipients of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for 2011.

Vocadlo’s work centers on understanding and manipulating the enzymes that assemble and break down glycoconjugates as well as the roles of these enzymes in biology. His research has helped clarify how enzymes that process the glycoconjugate O-GlcNAc work at the molecular level. By controlling these enzymes in cells, Vocadlo has shed light on the involvement of O-GlcNAc in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Taking this work further, he provided new insights into how the same glycoconjugate could play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

Vocadlo’s group also is investigating an innovative carbohydrate-based approach to fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The group is working to create compounds that block the bacteria from sensing and resisting the effects of certain antibiotics. This new stealth approach to the problem might overcome the growing threat of certain types of antibiotic resistance.

This fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is for a two-year period. It is named in memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, a chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada during and immediately following World War II.

Wessler elected home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences

Susan R. Wessler, distinguished professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California president’s chairwoman, has been elected home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences.

During her four-year term beginning July 1, Wessler will oversee the NAS’s membership activities and serve as secretary of its governing council. Elected to the NAS in 1998, she is the first woman to serve as the academy’s home secretary.

Wessler’s research looks at transposable elements in plants with a focus on the characterization of active transposable elements and determination of how they contribute to genome evolution and adaptation. To address these questions, Wessler uses a combination of genetic, biochemical and genomic approaches.

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