July 2010

ASBMB Member Spotlight

ASBMB members in the spotlight this month include Carolyn Bertozzi, Charleen T. Chu, Catherine C. Fenselau, Joanne Stubbe, Christopher T. Walsh and Alexander Varshavsky.

Spotlight---BertozziBertozzi Awarded Lemelson-MIT Prize

Carolyn Bertozzi, T. Z. and Irmgard Chu distinguished professor of chemistry and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been awarded the 2010 Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prize. She accepted the prize and presented her research at MIT during the Lemelson-MIT Program’s fourth annual EurekaFest this past June.

Bertozzi’s research interests lie at the intersection of chemistry and biology, with a particular focus on understanding the relationship of cell surface glycosylation to normal cell function and to human disease. Bertozzi has designed experiments that have contributed to the way in which researchers can profile changes in cell-surface glycosylation associated with cancer, inflammation and bacterial infection. She is most noted for her pioneering work in the field of bioorthogonal chemistry on living systems.

In addition to her Berkeley appointment, Bertozzi is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and director of the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscience institute at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Bertozzi.

Spotlight---ChuChu Receives Outstanding Investigator Award

Charleen T. Chu, associate professor of neuropathology in the pathology department at the University of Pittsburgh, is the 2010 winner of the American Society for Investigative Pathology Outstanding Investigator Award. The award recognizes mid-career investigators with demonstrated excellence in research in experimental pathology. Chu presented her award lecture titled “Parkinson’s Disease: Converging Insights from Toxin and Genetic Models” at the Experimental Biology 2010 in Anaheim, Calif.

Chu studies the role of kinases in age-related neurodegenerative diseases with an emphasis on mitochondrial dysfunction and macroautophagy. Her work highlights the dual role of autophagy in neuronal injury. While autophagy reduces cell death by eliminating damaged mitochondria, it also elicits retraction and simplification of the neuritic arbor in multiple toxin and genetic Parkinson’s disease models. Her laboratory’s discovery of a novel phosphorylation site on the autophagy mediator LC3, which prevents neurite shortening, offers a potential mechanism by which neuroprotective kinases act to restore anabolic-catabolic balance.

Chu’s other recent honors include induction to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the 2010 Carnegie Science Award for Emerging Female Scientist, which recognizes a scientific leader whose cutting-edge work is inspiring change in math, science or technology.

Spotlight---FenselauFenselau Receives Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry

Catherine C. Fenselau, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, received the Ralph N. Adams Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry from Pittcon and the Friends of Ralph N. Adams this past spring. The recently established award honors Ralph Adams, a visionary researcher and pioneer in the application of advanced analytical methods to study state-of-the-art biomedical problems.

Fenselau’s research focuses on developing proteomic strategies for the analysis of changes in proteins in human cancer cells. She also explores mass-spectrometry-based methods for the rapid analysis of airborne microorganisms.

“The decision to give this award to me reflects the importance of mass spectrometry in biomedical research, its significant past contributions and its huge potential for critical future discoveries,” said Fenselau. “Mass spectrometry currently is the most rapidly evolving analytical technology, a claim supported by the award of the Nobel Prize to two mass spectroscopists in 2002, and most of us believe that ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’”

Pittcon is an annual conference organized by the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, a Pennsylvania not-for-profit educational corporation comprised of the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh.

Spotlight---StubbeStubbe and Walsh Garner Welch Award

Joanne Stubbe, Novartis professor of chemistry and biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Christopher T. Walsh, Hamilton Kuhn professor at Harvard Medical School, are the recipients of the 2010 Welch Award in Chemistry.

“These two scientists, longtime friends who share a passion for knowledge, have made hugely important contributions to our understanding of the chemistry of biological functions in the enzymes that make life possible. Their work has led to new Spotlight---Walshtherapeutic treatments, including new antibiotics and new cancer treatments, among other advances that improve the quality of life,” said Ernest H. Cockrell, chair of The Welch Foundation.

Stubbe has focused most of her career studying the mechanisms of enzymes involved in nucleotide metabolism, central to the biosynthesis of DNA and RNA. Her success in unraveling the specific steps in enzymatic reactions over the past four decades has had profound impacts on fields ranging from cancer drug development to synthesis of biodegradable plastics.

Walsh’s primary focus is on understanding the mechanisms by which enzymes bring about chemical transformations in biological systems. His group currently is exploring the biosynthesis of natural product antibiotics and the chemical logic and enzymatic machinery of how they are made in order to identify new antibiotics, antitumor agents and immunosuppressants and to improve the efficiency of production.

Spotlight---VarshavskyVarshavsky Wins Prize for Biomedical Science

Alexander Varshavsky, the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits professor of cell biology at the California Institute of Technology, has won the 2010 Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science for elucidating the process and biological significance of regulated protein degradation in living cells.

The Vilcek Prize has been awarded annually since 2006 to an established biomedical scientist whose work profoundly has advanced science over the course of his or her career. Varshavsky’s research on ubiquitin led to the discovery of its fundamentally important biological functions in living cells, showing that regulated protein degradation underlies major physiological processes. His laboratory continues to study ubiquitin-dependent processes, with a focus on the N-end rule pathway of protein degradation which relates the in vivo half-life of a protein to the identity of its N-terminal residue.

According to the Vilcek Foundation, “As a pioneer and leader in the field of ubiquitin research who has ushered it into the age of molecular genetics, Dr. Varshavsky also has helped establish this field as one of the most important and ‘ubiquitous’ in biomedical science, a point of convergence for disparate disciplines.”

Six ASBMB Members Named HHMI Professors

This past spring, six American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members were among the 13 faculty members from around the nation to be named as Howard Hughes Medical Institute professors in the 2010 round of awards. Launched in 2002, the HHMI professors program recognizes accomplished research scientists who also are deeply committed to making science more engaging for undergraduates. The program awards four-year grants aimed at fostering innovations in undergraduate science education at the professors’ home universities and providing other institutions with effective models for bridging research and teaching.

The ASBMB recipients are:

Catherine Drennan, professor of chemistry and biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sarah C. R. Elgin, Viktor Hamburger professor of arts and sciences and professor in the department of biology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Richard M. Losick, Harvard College professor and Maria Moors Cabot professor of biology at Harvard University.

Baldomero M. Olivera, distinguished professor at the University of Utah.

Scott A. Strobel, Henry Ford II professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and professor of chemistry at Yale University.

Graham C. Walker, American Cancer Society research professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Three ASBMB Members Awarded Kavli Prize

Three American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members were named recipients of 2010 Kavli Prizes. A total of eight scientists were selected to receive the 2010 award for expanding human understanding in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

Members Thomas C. Südhof, a professor in molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, and James E. Rothman, chairman of the department of cell biology at Yale University, were joined by Richard Scheller in sharing the neuroscience award for work that revealed the precise molecular basis of the transfer of signals between nerve cells in the brain.

ASBMB member Nadrian Seeman, a professor of chemistry at New York University, received the nanoscience award, with Donald M. Eigler, for his work on structural DNA nanotechnology.

The Kavli Prizes were set up to recognize outstanding scientific research, honor highly creative scientists, promote public understanding of scientists and their work and to encourage international scientific cooperation.

Three ASBMB Members Earn Distinguished Scientist Awards

The Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine has honored three American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members with the newly established Distinguished Scientist Award. The award recognizes biomedical scientists whose seminal research accomplishments have established them as leaders in biomedicine and who have made significant contributions to SEBM.

Hector F. DeLuca, Harry Steenbock Research Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Henry C. Pitot, professor emeritus of oncology and of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Wisconsin, and Kenneth L. Barker of the State University of New York – Syracuse are among the eight past presidents of the SEBM who received the honor.

In Memoriam: Michael Anthony Cusanovich

Michael Anthony Cusanovich, Regent’s professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics emeritus, former vice president of research, head of the Arizona Research Laboratories, and active member of the University of Arizona community for more than 40 years, died on April 12.

Cusanovich received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego. After completing his postdoctoral research at Cornell University, he began his career as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Arizona in 1969. He had a distinguished career as an internationally renowned scientist focusing on energy transduction, especially in relation to photoactive proteins.

Cusanovich was a dedicated teacher, an advocate for the development of bioindustry, and a member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board. He retired in 2007 but continued to immerse himself in research and advocacy. He also was a fan of the outdoors, an avid golfer, horseback rider and skier.

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