Public Release: 

Pioneers of HIV structural biology win an award

American Association for the Advancement of Science

World-renowned scientists -- Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, and Dr. Alexander Wlodawer of the National Cancer Institute, USA -- are the first winners of the Poland-U.S. Science Award granted jointly by the Foundation for Polish Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest scientific association.

The presentation of the first Poland-U.S. Science Award will take place at the AAAS headquarters in Washington on 28 April 2015 at 6:00 p.m. EDT. The awardees will be introduced by H.E. Ryszard Schnepf, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the United States.

The award was established in 2013 and it is granted to a pair of scientists, one working in Poland and one in the USA, for outstanding scientific achievements resulting from their collaboration. The Jaskólski-Wlodawer team received it for structural studies on proteins of medical relevance, which have contributed to the development of new therapies to cure human diseases, such as AIDS or leukemia in children.

"The award was established to highlight the significance of Polish-American scientific cooperation and to show that it leads to excellent achievements in science. We also hope that the successes of our award winners will encourage other researchers to collaborate," said Prof. Maciej Żylicz, President of the Foundation for Polish Science.

The award is granted once every two years through a nomination-based competition. The selection is made by a Jury composed of outstanding representatives of the Polish and American scientific communities. The jury seeks opinions of experts who review the proposals. The first competition saw 55 nominations, all of which represented a very high standard. The sum of the Award is equivalent to 5,000 US dollars for each of the winners.

Prof. Jaskólski and Dr. Wlodawer started their collaboration in structural biology 27 years ago. When the AIDS epidemic broke out in the early 1980s, the race to develop drugs was hindered by a complete lack of information about the structure of retroviral proteins, such as the proteins encoded by the HIV genome. Therefore, the publication of the structure of retroviral protease by Wlodawer, Jaskólski and collaborators in Nature magazine in 1989 marked a fundamental breakthrough. That article was followed by the publication of two more in Science magazine -- one concerning a modeling study, in which the correct structure of HIV-1 protease was predicted as well as its mode of interaction with substrates, while the other presented the resolution of a heated debate concerning the structure of this enzyme, triggered by a partly incorrect model proposed by a competing group. "Our discovery has contributed to the development of the first protease-oriented drugs for AIDS patients within an unprecedentedly short period of only 7 years. Even today it is still the only example of this process having been completed so quickly," said Dr. Wlodawer.

Since then, both scientists have been continuing their collaboration in structural biology of medicinally relevant systems: among other things, they have determined the structures of proteases originating from other retroviruses (including the HTLV virus which causes leukemia), of retroviral integrases (the catalytic domain in its active form) and bacterial asparaginases, which are important in the treatment of lymphoblastic leukemia in children.

They have written together 37 papers and chapters which have been cited about 2,450 times so far, which testifies to the importance of their joint research for their field of science. They have also contributed to the development of crystallographic methodology and are widely recognized as experts in crystallographic methods and education.

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Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski studied chemistry at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. He received his Ph.D. (1979) and D.Sc. (1985) in chemistry from the same University. He became Professor in 1997. He is a Corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and two foreign academies: the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and Regia Societas Scientiarum Upsaliensis, Sweden. In 1994, he set up the first protein crystallography laboratory in Poland, the Center for Biocrystallographic Research affiliated with the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poznań, of which he is the head until today. Winner of numerous honors and awards, including the Prize of the Foundation for Polish Science awarded in 2002. Author of more than 330 publications (articles and books), mainly in structural chemistry and structural biology.

Dr. Alexander Wlodawer studied physics at the University of Warsaw. He received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1974. Since 1987, he has been working at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he serves as Chief of the Macromolecular Crystallography Laboratory. He is a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and several scientific associations: the American Crystallographic Association, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the International Proteolysis Society. He was awarded the Heyrovsky Honorary Medal by the Czech Academy of Sciences and is a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Technical University of Lodz, Poland. Author of more than 350 publications (articles and books).

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science as well as Science Translational Medicine , Science Signaling and a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS. See http://www.aaas.org.

The Foundation for Polish Science was established in 1991. It is a non-governmental, non-political, non-profit institution based in Warsaw, Poland, with the mission of supporting science. It is the largest source of science funding in Poland outside of the state budget. The Foundation pays special attention to the transparency of its operations, regarding this as the foundation for building the society's trust in the Foundation and in the entire NGO sector. Financial reporting of the Foundation is examined each year by renowned auditing firms. It publishes an extensive report on its operations every year in its Annual Report, available at FNP's offices and on its website. The motto of FNP is: "Supporting the best, so that they can become even better". www.fnp.org.pl

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