May 2011

Member Update

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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