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Biochemist bags young scientist award

May 18, 2006 By Paroma Basu

A biochemist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is one of two recipients of the 2006 Shaw Scientist Award. Designed to help young scientists explore novel research directions, the $200,000 prize is annually awarded to Wisconsin researchers working in the fields of biochemistry, the biological sciences and cancer research.

“The [Shaw] award is a very important award and I’m very happy to receive it,” says Aseem Ansari, an assistant professor of biochemistry and genomics. “This award is wonderful because it enables scientists to take risks and pursue ideas that are unconventional.”

Ansari is creating chemical mimics of proteins known as transcription factors, which are crucial in the regulation of gene activity. The scientist hopes to use the protein look-alikes to manipulate genes in embryonic stem cells, the “blank slate” cells that are capable of developing into any of the 220 tissues and cells in the human body. Using the mimics, Ansari’s goal is to “direct” stem cells in a Petri dish to morph into specific types of tissue. The work could one day enable doctors to swap injured tissue with laboratory-grown, healthy replacements.

Ansari spent his childhood years in Russia, but completed school in Mumbai, India. In 1987, Ansari earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology at St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. In 1995, he completed doctoral work in chemical biology at Northwestern University, Illinois. After three years of postdoctoral research at Harvard University, Ansari joined the UW–Madison faculty in 2001.

Ava Udvadia, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UW-Milwaukee, is the other recipient of this year’s Shaw Scientist Award. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation created the Shaw Scientist Awards in 1982 with a $4.2 million bequest from donor Dorothy Shaw, the widow of Milwaukee attorney James Shaw.

Tags: stem cells