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Celia Schiffer honored with William C. Rose Award

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recognizes contributions in research and mentoring

By Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

July 26, 2019
 
Celia A. Schiffer, PhD
Celia A. Schiffer, PhD
   

Celia A. Schiffer, PhD, has been named the 2020 recipient of the prestigious William C. Rose Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Dr. Schiffer, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and director of the Institute for Drug Resistance, will be recognized for her outstanding contributions to biochemical and molecular biological research and for her demonstrated commitment to the training of young scientists at the society’s annual meeting in April 2020.

“She is both a superb scientist and one of the most outstanding exemplars of mentorship I have observed among my many colleagues during my 25 years at Penn State and 19 years at UMass Medical School. She is most worthy of this prestigious award,” said C. Robert Matthews, PhD, the Arthur F. and Helen P. Koskinas Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology and chair and professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, in his nomination letter to the ASBMB selection committee.

The William C. Rose Award was established to honor the legacy of Rose, an authority on protein nutrition and former president of the ASBMB. 

A dedicated mentor, Schiffer, the 2016 Massachusetts Society for Medical Research Educator of the Year, and the inaugural recipient of the UMMS Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring in 2016, has established one of the most diverse research laboratories at UMMS, according to Dr. Matthews.

“Dr. Schiffer has been highly motivated to provide a safe environment into which she is able to recruit and retain students underrepresented in science and medicine and enable them to excel in a very competitive world. This is one more dimension of her passionate commitment to mentorship,” he said, adding that several of her former students and post-docs have gone on to careers at prominent institutions, as well as the biotech and pharma industries.

In 2015, Schiffer was made a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. She founded the Institute for Drug Resistance in 2009. The Schiffer lab primarily studies the molecular basis for drug resistance in viruses, particularly viral proteases and APOBEC3s. She has led three NIH Program Project and many R01 grants. Her lab uses an integrative approach of protein crystallography, enzymology, molecular dynamics and organic chemistry to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of drug resistance. 

Through her research, Schiffer has developed a new paradigm for avoiding drug resistance that likely translates to other diseases. She discovered resistance mutations occur either where drugs physically contact regions of the drug target that are not essential for substrate recognition or alter the ensemble dynamics of the drug target favoring substrate. Leveraging new strategies in structure-based drug design to minimize the likelihood for resistance by designing inhibitors to stay within the substrate envelope, this strategy not only describes most of the primary drug resistance for HIV, Hepatitis C viral protease inhibitors and influenza neuraminidase, but is generally applicable in the development of novel drugs to quickly evolving diseases to ensure that they are less susceptible to resistance.

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