Drew Weissman ’81, MA ’81 Receives the Lasker Award

Drew WeissmanKatalin Karikó and Drew Weissman ’81, MA ’81 have received the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. Weissman is a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Karikó is a senior vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. The Lasker award is in recognition of their research into messenger RNA and the resulting therapeutic technology. It was their work that was so crucial in the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccines. It should be noted that many winners of the Lasker award go on to receive the Nobel Prize.

Weissman and Kariko also received the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research award earlier this year.

The Washington Post profiled Weissman and his work in a recent article, “A scientific hunch. Then silence. Until the world needed a lifesaving vaccine.”

View Lasker acceptance remarks from Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman.

 

 

Brandeis Alumnus Receives Breakthrough Prize

Drew WeissmanBrandeis alumnus, Drew Weissman, ’81, MA ’81, P’15 along with Katalin Karikó have been awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.  Weissman and Karikó received the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research from Brandeis earlier this year.

While the Breakthrough Prize is considered the world’s largest science prize at $3 million, it is one of the many awards that Weissman and Kariko have been receiving as a result of their decades of research into mRNA therapies. It is this research that has led to the innovative COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

After earning his BA and MA degrees from Brandeis, Weissman went on to receive his PhD in Immunology from Boston University in 1987. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health under Anthony Fauci. He is now a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

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Gieseking Receives NSF CAREER Award

Figure from Rebecca GiesekingRebecca Gieseking, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has received an NSF CAREER award from the Chemical Theory, Models and Computational Methods program. This award will enable her research group to develop computational models that provide chemical understanding of how light interacts with metal nanoclusters.

Harnessing solar energy is crucial to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels and alleviate the environmental impact of our ever-increasing demand for energy. Noble metal nanoclusters containing tens to hundreds of metal atoms have the potential to revolutionize solar energy technologies by harnessing light to produce chemical fuels. These nanoclusters strongly absorb light because they support plasmons, which are collective oscillations of the electrons. Understanding, controlling, and manipulating the plasmon properties is key to improving the efficiency of solar energy storage.

Rebecca has shown that efficient computational models can accurately model the light absorption of metal nanocluster, and her group is now extending these models to understand the decay processes after metal nanoclusters absorb light. They are using these models to understand how these decay processes change as a function of nanocluster size, shape, and composition to design metal nanoclusters with controllable decay time scales for efficient solar energy storage.

Tijana Ivanovic selected to speak at 2021 Future of Biophysics Burroughs Wellcome Fund Symposium

Tijana IvanovicTijana Ivanovic, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, has been selected as one of four young scientists to speak at the 2021 Future of Biophysics Burroughs Wellcome Fund Symposium on February 23, 2021. This symposium is part of the 65th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society and due to COVID concerns, will be held virtually.

The purpose of this symposium is to highlight the work of young researchers who are currently conducting research at the intersection of the physical and life sciences. Research in the Ivanovic Laboratory uses biophysical methods to uncover fundamental molecular mechanisms of virus translocation across biological membranes.

The other speakers selected for the 2021 Symposium are Elisabeth Fischer-Friedrich, TU Dresden, Germany; Abhishek Singharoy, Arizona State University, USA; and Chen Song, Peking University, China.

First Rosbash-Abovich Award Recipients Announced

Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Biology and his wife, Nadja Abovich, established the Rosbash-Abovich Award as a way to inspire and acknowledge excellence in research by post-doctoral fellows and graduate students in the Brandeis life sciences. The Rosbash-Abovich award will be awarded annually.

The award honors the most outstanding papers published the previous year that have been authored by a Brandeis postdoctoral fellow and a Brandeis PhD student. In addition to the honor being selected, each winner is presented with a monetary award.

Future winners will present their talks at upcoming Volen Scientific Retreats, but due to COVID restrictions, the 2020 winners will be presenting their talks during the Molecular Genetics Journal Club meetings.

Most outstanding paper by a post-doctoral fellow

Michael O'Donnell

Michael O’Donnell, PhD

The 2020 winner for the most outstanding post-doctoral paper is Michael O’Donnell for the publication titled “A neurotransmitter produced by gut bacteria modulates host sensory behavior“. O’Donnell, is a former postdoc in the Piali Sengupta Lab. Sengupta said

Mike is a remarkable scientist and mentor. He single-handedly and independently established a new research direction in my lab. He also served as an informal mentor to many graduate students and has continued to do so even after he left my lab. I greatly appreciated our long discussions and arguments, and he is very much missed.

Sengupta also noted that O’Donnell was chosen to receive this award

on the basis of the creativity and novelty of his work that was published in Nature. The committee was particularly interested in nominating a researcher who was a driving force behind the work and Mike certainly fulfilled this criteria.

O’Donnell is now an assistant professor at Yale and recently formed the O’Donnell lab. He presented his talk to the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on December 2, 2020. He spoke about his work on neuromodulators produced by different bacteria.

Most outstanding paper by a PhD student

James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu

Professor James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu, PhD

The recipient of the 2020 award for the most outstanding PhD student paper is Gonen Memisoglu for the publication “Mec1 ATR Autophosphorylation and Ddc2 ATRIP Phosphorylation Regulates DNA Damage Checkpoint Signaling.“ She was a PhD student in James Haber’s lab. She received her PhD in 2018 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. She will be presenting her talk at the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on February 2, 2021.

When asked about his former PhD student, Haber said

I was delighted to learn that Gonen was the recipient of the Rosbash/Abovich award for the best publication by a graduate student last year; but I had to ask “which paper” because Gonen made two important discoveries last year about the way cells respond to DNA damage. Gonen helped develop a highly efficient way to edit the yeast genome and to create dozens of very precise mutations in the Mec1 gene that is the master regulator of the DNA damage response.  When there is a chromosome break, the Mec1 protein phosphorylates a number of proteins that creates a cascade of signaling to prevent cells from progressing through mitosis until damage is repaired. Gonen discovered that the extinction of the this signal depended on Mec1’s autophosphorylation of one specific target and that changing that specific amino acid to one that could not be phosphorylated was enough to cause cells to remain arrested. She also identified several alterations of the Ddc2 protein that associates with Mec1 that were also critical for its normal activation.

During her time in my lab Gonen was a super hard-working and exceptionally insightful grad student, but also incredibly generous with her time, helping others in the lab

Bulbul Chakraborty Elected AAAS Fellow

Bulbul ChakrabortyBulbul Chakraborty, the Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics and head of the Division of Science, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This honor is in recognition of Professor Chakraborty’s important theoretical contributions in the area of condensed matter physics, particularly disordered systems including frustrated magnets and granular materials.

Chakraborty has been a Brandeis faculty member since 1989. She is a condensed matter theorist who is currently focused on understanding the emergence of rigidity in solids that emerge in strongly nonequilibrium processes such as jamming or gelation.

A virtual induction ceremony for the newly elected Fellows will be held in February 2021.

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