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TSRI Scientist Wins Prestigious Young Investigator Award

LA JOLLA, CA—August 14, 2017—Staff Scientist Kathryn Hastie of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has won the 2017 William E. and Diane M. Spicer Young Investigator Award of Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, for her persistent work to reveal the Lassa virus glycoprotein structure.

The Spicer Young Investigator Award is presented each year to a new investigator who has made significant technical or scientific contributions that are beneficial to the Lightsource community.

“It is an honor to be recognized for the years of work that I and my colleagues dedicated to this discovery,” Hastie said. “We are excited to now use the structure to develop better, more effective therapeutics and vaccines.”

“It was Dr. Hastie’s tenacity and experimental creativity that brought this project to light,” TSRI Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire said. “Finding a way to solve this structure was essential so we could move forward with vaccine development.”

Lassa’s Glycoprotein Structural Mystery Solved

Lassa fever is a severe and sometimes fatal hemorrhagic disease caused by the Lassa virus. There are hundreds of thousands of cases in West Africa each year, and it is the hemorrhagic fever virus most frequently transported to the United States and Europe. There is currently no vaccine and no specific treatment. Development of a vaccine that would elicit the necessary antibodies was a mystery, until now.

After nearly 10 years of research, a team led by Hastie and Saphire solved the Lassa virus glycoprotein’s structure earlier this year. Hastie discovered Lassa’s unique arrangement included three GP1-GP2 pairs coming together like a tripod. She also figured out how to engineer the protein so it would remain stable in the right form, to elicit the right immune response. This breakthrough provides a blueprint to design a Lassa virus vaccine.

Their work also explains why the cellular receptor only binds trimeric GP, the activity of mutations that determine disease severity, and provides the template to interpret the related proteins of other American and African hemorrhagic fever viruses – pathogens such as Machupo virus, Junín virus, Whitewater Arroyo virus and Lujo virus.

Hastie and Saphire’s breakthrough discovery was published in the journal Science. Moving forward, the next step is to test a vaccine that will prompt the immune system to target Lassa’s glycoprotein in the places that their work indicates are the most vulnerable.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering or Medicine—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. In October 2016, TSRI announced a strategic affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), representing a renewed commitment to the discovery and development of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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TSRI Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire (left) and Staff Scientist Kathryn Hastie (right).