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Eric Topol named executive vice president at The Scripps Research Institute
Jeffery Kelly elected to National Academy of Inventors



Of Note

Ardem Patapoutian receives prestigious W. Alden Spencer Award

Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, professor at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been awarded the W. Alden Spencer Award for his outstanding neuroscience research contributions. The award, from the Department of Neuroscience and the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, was presented jointly to Patapoutian and Harvard Medical School Professor David Ginty on Nov. 28, 2017.

The award, first given in 1978, is named for W. Alden Spencer, a professor of Physiology and Neurology at Columbia University. Past recipients include Nobel laureates Erwin Neher, Bert Sakmann, Rod Mackinnon, Roger Tsien, Tom Sudhof, Robert Horvitz, John Sulston, Edvard I. Moser, and May-Britt Moser.

According to Columbia University, “The 2017 Spencer Award recognizes David Ginty, Ph.D. and Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D. for their pioneering contributions that have elucidated the neural bases for the sensation of touch and pain.”

Patapoutian, a member of the TSRI Dorris Neuroscience Center, works to uncover the basic mysteries of human sensory biology, such as the proteins underlying our sense of touch and pain, and contributes to the development of future treatments for disease. He gave a lecture titled, “Ion Channels that Feel the Force,” as part of the W. Alden Spencer Award ceremony.

Learn more about Patapoutian’s research:

TSRI chemist Matthew Disney receives Israel Chemical Society’s Barry Cohen Award

The Medicinal Chemistry Section of the Israel Chemical Society has bestowed its “Award for Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry in Memory of Barry Cohen” to Professor Matthew Disney, PhD, of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida.

The society, calling Disney a “highly creative medicinal chemist,” says he was selected due to his “seminal contributions to medicinal chemistry in developing small-molecule probes that target RNA and RNA structures.”

Within cells, genes made of DNA serve as templates for making proteins, the building blocks of the body. Types of RNA molecules read DNA and carry the instructions to the cell’s protein assembly unit, the ribosome. RNA molecules can also act like switches, turning gene expression on and off, making RNA potentially useful as a drug target. However, because the tiny molecules constantly move and shift shapes, RNA has presented a seemingly impossible target for therapeutic interventions. Many scientists had dismissed their usefulness.

For more than 12 years, Disney has pursued RNA therapeutics, believing they might offer a path to treat diseases that had been deemed untreatable. To succeed, Disney has used the power of scale to his advantage, employing computational and high-throughput strategies to eventually find a reliable way for certain drug-like compounds to bind to RNA molecules. His lab is focusing on several so-called orphan diseases, rare and untreatable conditions that affect a limited number of people, as well as difficult-to-treat types of cancer such as drug-resistant prostate cancer and triple-negative breast cancer.

“His group has identified patient-specific therapies targeting orphan diseases, especially RNA-mediated neurological disorders with no known cure,” such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease, says Ehud Keinan, PhD, president of the Israel Chemical Society. “In addition, he devised candidate drugs for common disorders to which there is a poor prognosis, such as drug resistant cancers.”

Disney is the fifth scientist to be granted the Award for Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry in Memory of Barry Cohen by the Israel Chemical Society. The international prize became possible thanks to an endowment fund donated by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in memory of Cohen, a former member of Teva’s Board of Directors. Previous awardees include Barry Trost and Paul A. Wendar of Stanford University, Richard B. Silverman of Northwestern University and Brian K. Shoichet of the University of California, San Francisco.

The Israel Chemical Society’s Barry Cohen Award ceremony will take place June 6, 2018 at the Weizmann Institute of Science during the society’s 15th annual meeting.

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Professor Matthew Disney, PhD (Photo by James McEntee)