The winners of the Poland-U.S. Science Award 2014
Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski studied chemistry at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He earned his doctorate (1979) and postdoctoral degree (1985) in chemistry at the same university. He was named a professor in 1997. He is a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and two foreign organizations: the European Molecular Biology Organization and the Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala (Sweden). In 1994 he founded Poland’s first protein crystallography lab, the Centre for Biocrystallographic Research at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań, which he heads to this day. He is the laureate of numerous awards and distinctions, including the Foundation for Polish Science Prize, which he received in 2002. He has published over 330 works (articles and books), mainly on structural chemistry and structural biology.
Dr Alexander Wlodawer studied physics at the University of Warsaw. He earned his doctorate in molecular biology in 1974 at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1987 he has been affiliated with the National Cancer Institute, where he serves as director of the Macromolecular Crystallography Laboratory. He is a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of several scientific societies: the American Crystallographic Association, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the International Proteolysis Society. He is a laureate of the Heyrovský Medal of the Czech Academy of Sciences and holds an honorary doctorate from the Łódź University of Technology. He has over 350 publications (articles and books).
Information about joint research
Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski and Dr Alexander Wlodawer received the Poland–US Science Award for structural research into medically significant proteins, leading to the development of new therapies for human diseases such as AIDS and childhood leukaemia.
The researchers winning this award began their cooperation in the field of structural biology 27 years ago. When the AIDS epidemic broke out in the early 1980s, the race to find drugs to treat this disease ran into a barrier in the form of the total lack of information about the construction of retroviral proteins, including those that code HIV in their genetic baggage. Thus the description of the structure of a retroviral protease published by Wlodawer, Jaskólski and their colleagues in Nature in 1989 was a breakthrough. Following that article, two more were published in Science: one involving research combined with modelling, correctly predicting the structure of the HIV-1 protease and how it interacts with the substratum; and the other presenting a solution to the heated debate on the structure of this enzyme, the source of which was partially an incorrect model proposed by a competing team of researchers. As Dr Wlodawer explained, “Our discovery led to the creation of a drug for AIDS patients at the express rate of 7 years. To date this is the only example where this process has occurred so quickly.”
Since then the two scientists have continued their cooperation in the field of structural biology of medically important systems. Among other things, they have defined the structure of proteases derived from other retroviruses (including HTLV, which causes leukaemia), retroviral integrases (a catalytic domain in active form), and bacterial asparaginases, important for treating lymphoblastic leukaemia in children.
Together they have authored 37 works, which together have been cited some 2,450 times, which demonstrates the importance of their joint research for the field of science they practise. The researchers have also contributed to the development of crystallography methods and are commonly regarded as authorities in crystallography methodology and education.