Year in Review

By Mika Ono

When we look back at 2001, we will no doubt remember national events—the devastating attacks of September 11 and the country's war on terrorism. But the local news was not all bleak. In fact, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) provided much to celebrate.

This week, K. Barry Sharpless, W.M. Keck Professor at TSRI's Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, was in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf in a ceremony with much pageantry. Winning the prize with two other chemists for work on the development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis, Sharpless became the second Nobel laureate on campus with Gerald Edelman, chair of the Department of Neurobiology.

Based on the exemplary work of its researchers, TSRI was ranked the most influential institution in the world in the physical sciences (which includes the fields of chemistry and physics), tenth in the medical sciences, and eleventh in the biological sciences by the Institute for Scientific Information. Examples of groundbreaking research from TSRI labs this year are numerous:

  • TSRI investigator Geoffrey Chang published an x-ray crystal structure that provides the first detailed glimpse of a membrane transporter protein, a finding that could be useful for improving cancer therapy and fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Investigators Erica Ollmann Saphire, Dennis Burton, and Ian Wilson were among the researchers who published the structure of an antibody that effectively neutralizes human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a necessary first step in the development of an effective vaccine.

  • Investigators Dennis Burton and Anthony Williamson published work that describes an antibody that arrests prion infections in cell culture, a finding that may lead to a treatment for mad cow disease.

  • Investigators Peter Schultz and Paul Schimmel published two separate papers in which they were the first to describe methods of engineering bacterial cells to encode "unnatural" proteins, which incorporate novel amino acids not found in nature.

  • Professor M. Reza Ghadiri and colleagues published a paper that described a dramatically new approach for designing drugs to combat such problems as infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Investigator Kim Janda designed a new vaccine against cocaine that could become a valuable tool in treating addiction.

This and other research was made possible by the generous support of individual donors, private foundations, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Notable new awards from the NIH this year included grants to a consortium of alcohol researchers led by TSRI Professor George Koob, a Consortium for Functional Glycomics at TSRI led by Professor James Paulson, and a new Core Center for Vision Research at TSRI led by Associate Professor Martin Friedlander. In addition, a gift from Helen L. Dorris made possible the new Helen L. Dorris Institute for the Study of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders of Children and Adolescents.

The face of the campus changed in 2001. A 54,000-square-foot building, The Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases, opened its doors on the east side of campus. The world's most powerful NMR magnet was delivered to TSRI in June. And a new sculpture by TSRI Trustee John Safer, "The Flame of Knowledge," was dedicated in memory of Norton Gilula, the first dean of the graduate program and chair of the Department of Cell Biology.

Throughout the year, TSRI continued to fulfill its mission as an educational institution. In May, 21 students graduated from TSRI's two Ph.D. programs—both of which are currently ranked in the top ten in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. In August, 37 new students entered the programs.

TSRI's Science Outreach Program, which was presented with an Exemplary Partnership Award from the San Diego City Schools in June, continued to promote science education in the community through seminars and internship programs for teachers and middle-school, high-school, and undergraduate students. The program received major gifts this year from Chair of the TSRI Board of Trustees John Diekman and his wife Susan, and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

Indeed, TSRI provided much welcome news in 2001.


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