March 2010

Member Spotlight

Bandarian Honored with Pfizer Award

Spot---BandarianVahe Bandarian, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Arizona, has been named the recipient of the 2010 American Chemical Society Division of Biological Chemistry Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry.

The award recognizes Bandarian’s work on various aspects of the biosynthetic pathways for bacterial secondary metabolites. He and his colleagues undertook these studies to aid in understanding the pathways and chemical transformations that underlie the biosynthesis of these natural products, the mechanisms for the evolution of catalysts in these pathways and the broader issues involving evolution of secondary metabolic pathways in bacteria.

According to the ACS division of biological chemistry, “Professor Bandarian’s work is a tour de force at the cutting edge of microbial bioinformatics, natural-product biosynthesis, metabolomics and the de-orphaning of open reading frames of unknown function.”

Bandarian is especially noted for the identification and characterization of the gene cluster responsible for the production of the deazapurine natural products toyocamycin and sanguvamycin in Streptomyces rimosus. Although this class of compounds was discovered more than four decades ago, the biosynthetic pathways that produced them had remained elusive. 

Halpert Receives Brodie Award

Spot---HalpertJames Halpert, professor and associate dean for scientific affairs at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been awarded the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism for 2010.

The award is presented biennially to recognize outstanding original research contributions in drug metabolism and disposition, particularly those having a major impact on future research in the field. Named after the scientist known as “the father of modern drug metabolism,” the award is sponsored by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Division for Drug Metabolism.

For the past 30 years, Halpert’s research has looked at the structure and function of mammalian cytochromes P450. Heterogeneity in the expression levels and/or activities of these important drug-metabolizing enzymes is a major determinant of individual response to medications and environmental toxicants. Because many of the failures in investigational drug development result from suboptimal pharmacokinetics, drug interactions and/or toxicity, methods for predicting cytochrome P450-mediated metabolism of new compounds are currently in great demand. Progress in this area is dependent on sophisticated understanding of the structural determinants and mechanisms of cytochrome P450 function, which Halpert has helped to elucidate.

Penning to Receive NPA Award

Spot---PenningTrevor M. Penning, professor of pharmacology, biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has been selected to receive the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the National Postdoctoral Association. The award is given to an individual or entity that has demonstrated either a profound, sustained or leadership contribution to improving postdoctoral experience.

Penning, who is also director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania, will receive his award at the NPA’s eighth annual meeting in March.

According to the NPA, Penning is “recognized in the postdoctoral community as a longtime advocate on behalf of postdoctoral scholars, both on the home and national fronts.” He oversaw the formation of the postdoctoral office at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and served as the director of the office of postdoctoral programs, associate dean for postdoctoral research training and director of biomedical postdoctoral programs. When the NPA was formed in 2001, Penning served on its first advisory board and played an influential role in guiding the nascent organization toward independence and national relevance.

Raines Wins Repligen Award

Spot---RainesRonald T. Raines, Henry Lardy professor of biochemistry and professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the recipient of the 2010 Repligen Award in Biological Chemistry. This lifetime achievement award, given annually by the American Chemical Society, recognizes outstanding contributions to the understanding of the chemistry of biological processes, with particular emphasis on structure, function and mechanism. Raines is the 25th winner of the Repligen Award.

The award honors Raines and his contributions and wide-ranging impact on science at the interface of chemistry and biology. His efforts have led to both understanding and real-world applications. He has provided fundamental insight on the stability of collagen, leading him to discover a new force— the n→π* interaction— that contributes to the conformational stability of nearly every protein. Raines discovered how to convert a human ribonuclease into a toxin with specificity for cancer cells. His ribonuclease is in a human clinical trial as an anti-cancer agent. Raines also has provided mechanistic insight on cellular-redox homeostasis. Finally, he has developed chemical processes to synthesize proteins and convert biomass into useful fuels and chemicals.

Silhavy Elected to GSA Board

Spot---SilhavyThomas J. Silhavy, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, was recently elected to the 2010 Genetics Society of America board of directors. He took office on Jan. 1 and will remain on the board for three years.

“We have a terrific group of new officers and directors this year, and I am looking forward to working with them as we build on GSA’s strengths and plan for our future. Their election to the board is a reflection of the esteem in which they are held by their peers and their commitment to serve the community,” said GSA Executive Director Sherry Marts in a statement.

A bacteriologist, Silhavy is particularly interested in protein targeting and signal transduction in bacteria such as E. coli. He was the first to identify a component of the E. coli protein secretion machinery and the first to describe a “two-component system”— a major family of bacterial regulatory elements that sense a variety of environmental signals and transduce the information to transcriptionally regulate gene expression.

Young Shares Jung Medical Award

Spot---YoungStephen G. Young, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been named the recipient of the 2010 Ernst Jung Medical Award. He is being honored for his pioneering research on the mechanisms of lipid metabolism, particularly the elucidation of genetic defects in apolipoproteins, triglyceride-transport mechanisms and the role of farnesylated prelamin A in causing Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a pediatric disease that leads to hair loss, heart attacks, strokes and other features of aging.

The Ernst Jung Medical Award, initiated in 1967 by Hamburg merchant and ship owner Ernst Jung and awarded since 1976, is given for pioneering research in medicine. Young shares the award with Peter Carmeliet of the Vesalius Research Center in Leuven, Belgium. As part of the award, both Young and Carmeliet will receive $215,000.

Past recipients of the Ernst Jung Medical Award have included Anthony S. Fauci, David D. Ho, Francis V. Chisari, Judah Folkman and Stuart A. Lipton.

In Memoriam: Gene A. Homandberg

Gene A. Homandberg, chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, passed away on Dec. 21, at the age of 59.

An Iowa native, Homandberg pursued his education at the University of South Dakota, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a doctorate in biochemistry. He then served as a postdoctoral research associate in the department of chemistry at Purdue University and later at the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolic and Digestive Disorders.

In 1984, Homandberg became an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and was promoted to associate professor in 1986. He then joined Abbott Laboratories as a senior biochemist and worked there for two years before becoming a professor of biochemistry at Rush Medical College. He eventually was promoted to the Dr. Ralph and Marian C. Falk professor of biochemistry endowed chair. In 2002, Homandberg moved to the University of North Dakota and became the William Cornatzer chair in biochemistry.

Homandberg was a highly recognized researcher in osteoarthritis and cartilage physiology, and, in 1999, he was awarded permanent membership in the Frontiers in Bioscience Society of Scientists, based on his work in the regulation of cartilage metabolism in osteoarthritis.

In Memoriam: James B. Peter

James B. Peter, founder of Specialty Laboratories Inc., died on Oct. 30. He was 76.

A native of Omaha, Neb., Peter earned his medical degree from St. Louis University in 1958. He then went to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a doctorate in biochemistry in 1963, working with Paul D. Boyer. Peter then joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles, where he served as professor, clinical professor and College of Letters and Sciences advisory board member.

In 1975, Peter founded Clinical Immunologies Inc. with the mission to “help doctors help patients.” His hope was to bring modern biochemistry and immunology to the clinical laboratory marketplace. By the mid-1980s, the company had become Specialty Laboratories Inc., and Peter had created a unique niche in the lab industry. He and his scientific team developed a constant flow of proprietary esoteric tests and assays. In 2006, Specialty Laboratories was acquired by AmeriPath Inc., which was subsequently acquired by Quest Diagnostics in 2007.

Peter also founded the Specialty Family Foundation in 2006 with a mission to help ensure a Catholic education for demographically disadvantaged children. In addition to its focus on education, the foundation is involved in researching methods to support people with alcohol and substance abuse problems. 

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