Vol 9. Issue 21 / July 13, 2009

In Brief

Erica Ollmann Saphire and Marisa Roberto Win Presidential Early Career Awards
Associate Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire and Associate Professor Marisa Roberto have been selected to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," said President Barack Obama of the winners nationwide. "With their talent, creativity, and dedication, I am confident that they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world."

In a process involving nine federal agencies and coordinated by Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President, the award winners are selected annually based on two criteria: innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and community service demonstrated through scientific leadership, education, or community outreach.

Ollmann Saphire, who is a member of the Scripps Research Department of Immunology and Microbial Sciences and The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, is a 2000 graduate of the Scripps Research Ph.D. program, the Kellogg School of Science and Technology. She received her undergraduate degree from Rice University. In her research program, Ollmann Saphire combines x-ray crystallography, biochemistry, and immunology to analyze proteins that play key roles in the pathogenesis of Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers; structures of these proteins provide templates for vaccine design and enable rapid responses to newly emerging forms of the viruses. Last year, Ollmann Saphire and colleagues determined the structure of a critical protein from the Ebola virus, which, though rare, is one of the deadliest viruses on the planet killing between 50 and 90 percent of those infected (see Nature 454, 177-182, July 10 2008)).

Roberto, a member of the Scripps Research Committee on The Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, Pearson Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, and the Harold L. Dorris Neurological Research Institute, received both her B.A. (1996), and Ph.D. (2001) from the University of Pisa, Italy. In her research program, Roberto uses in vitro electrophysiological techniques to understand the effects of drugs of abuse and neuropeptides on neuronal function and synaptic transmission. Last year, Roberto and colleagues published a study providing evidence that the drug gabapentin affects certain components of the alcohol addiction cycle in the brain, supporting the idea that the medication, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating seizures and pain, also holds potential for the treatment of alcohol dependence (see The Journal of Neuroscience, 28(22), 5762-5771, May 28, 2008).

As Presidential Early Career Award honorees, Ollmann Saphire and Roberto will receive up to a five-year research grant to further their scientific investigations. The ceremony conferring the award will take place at the White House in the fall.

Richard Lerner Receives Ulysses Medal and Honorary Degree from University College Dublin

Scripps Research Institute President Richard A. Lerner has been awarded the prestigious Ulysses Medal and an honorary doctor of science degree from the University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland for his "groundbreaking work opening new doors to scientific discovery."

"Richard Lerner carries the position previously afforded to the great figures in the immunochemistry field such as Porter and Kabat," said UCD Professor Pauline Rudd, as quoted on the university's website. "In addition to his scientific efforts, Richard Lerner has a long record of excellence and discovery in research. He has had a remarkable impact on science—in particular at the interface of immunology and modern chemistry. Thanks to Lerner there are now catalytic antibodies in the clinic. Thus, what began simply as exploratory immunochemistry has become the basis of a powerful new therapeutic antibody platform. Richard Lerner's work has always been characterized by innovation, imagination, and inspiration."

For more information on Lerner, see his faculty web page.


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