Foundation supports chemical genomics center

January 26, 2001

A $1.5 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation will enable the university to establish a center of research for the study and application of chemical genomics, a dynamic new field combining chemistry and molecular biology.

The Keck Center for Chemical Genomics will enhance scientists’ capabilities for greater exploration and understanding of the complex interactions existing among proteins and other molecules that govern the basic functions of all living things.

Recent progress in genomics has greatly expanded the database of gene sequences and their resulting proteins, which in turn poses the next major challenge — to determine the function of the proteins.

The center will include a research facility to be housed in the UW chemistry building, and a screening facility in the biotechnology center. The combined facilities will be utilized by a multidisciplinary cross-section of university scientists currently engaged in various aspects of biotechnology. The results of their work also have potential benefit for others engaged in similar studies at other research institutions.

The Keck Foundation, located in Los Angeles, Calif., is among the nation’s most prestigious private organizations dedicated to the support of science, medical research and higher education. Highly selective in that support, Keck previously recognized quality projects at the universitythrough the funding of two other university research units, the Keck Neural Imaging Center and the Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior.

Chiefly responsible for securing support for the center are professor Laura L. Kiessling, principal investigator on the project, and assistant professor Peter J. Belshaw, who with Kiessling co-authored the grant proposal. Both hold joint appointments in chemistry and biochemistry.

Kiessling has earned widespread recognition for her work with the synthetic alteration of molecules and proteins in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as for a treatment for alleviating inflammation and pain among patients suffering from arthritis, lupus and other ailments. She has been awarded several leading prizes in science. Among these are the Shaw Scientist Award, the National Young Investigator Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, known popularly in and beyond academic circles as the “genius grant.”

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