Spring 2021 Distinguished Lecture

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Professor Stuart Schreiber, Harvard University & Co-Founder, Broad Institute, gave the virtual Spring 2021 Distinguished Lecture on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. 

Faculty, students, and researchers attended Schreiber’s lecture titled “30 years of Molecular Glues: Controlling Cell Circuitry in Biology and Medicine” via Zoom. 

At the lecture, Department Chair Professor Neil Garg gave the welcoming remarks and Schreiber was introduced by Professor Ohyun Kwon, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Schreiber’s lab at Harvard before joining the UCLA faculty.  After the lecture, Professor Ken Houk moderated the question and answer period.

In her introduction, Kwon said to Schreiber “I am confident that I speak for countless synthetic organic chemists when I say that your work inspires us to be cognizant of ramifications of the reactions that we develop and the impact of the molecules that we synthesize in the discovery and understanding of biological world that are germane to human health.”

About Professor Stuart L. Schreiber

Professor Stuart Schreiber is the Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. He is known for his use of small molecules in uncovering biological pathways and novel therapeutics and his research was instrumental to the development of the field of chemical biology, hence the name “The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology” at Harvard. The name that was adapted by many other universities. He is also a Co-Founder of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. 

Schreiber was born and raised in Virginia and attended the University of Virginia, obtaining his B.A. in Chemistry in 1977. That year, he entered Harvard University for his graduate study, joining the group of Professor R. B. Woodward. Woodward passed away in 1979 and Schreiber continued his graduate study under the supervision of Professor Yoshito Kishi. In 1980 after three years in graduate school, he obtained his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. A notable fact is that Schreiber had two single author papers from his graduate research at Harvard. One of them included an ingenious adaptation of Criegee ozonolysis (along with the Fe/Cu redox chemistry) in natural product modification that inspired numerous such use by the synthetic chemistry community. 

Shortly after his graduation, at the tender age of 24 when most people are in graduate school, Schreiber took up his first independent academic position at Yale as an assistant professor. He became sensationally successful, quickly establishing himself as a synthetic chemist who is apt both at method development (inventing, for example, “the Schreiber ozonolysis”) and the synthesis of complex natural products. One of the natural products that he synthesized in his first couple of years at Yale was periplanone B, the American cockroach sex-pheromone. This story of synthetic cockroach aphrodisiac was featured in The New York Times in 1984. 

“I’d suspect that Stuart had a keen interest in biological ramifications of molecules that he was assembling from the beginning of his scientific career, but, from the outsiders’ perspective, the works that swayed his main research focus from organic synthesis to chemical biology occurred at around the time that he returned to Harvard in 1988,” Professor Ohyun Kwon said in her introduction. “That year, he reported the total synthesis of cyclosporine-A, a cyclic peptide natural product that is clinically used as an immunosuppressant. The following year, he completed the total synthesis of another immunosuppressant macrolide natural product FK506 and identified its target protein FKBP. Shortly thereafter, Stuart unveiled two ternary complexes, FKBP-FK506-calcineurin and cyclophilin-cyclosporine-calcineurin, that inhibited the phosphatase calcineurin. These discoveries led to the elucidation of the calcium-calcineurin-NFAT signaling pathway, which is an important element in immune response.”

In 1994, along with the total synthesis of another small molecule dimerizer rapamycin, Schreiber uncovered the FKBP12-rapamycin-mTOR ternary complex. The kinase mTOR plays numerous roles in cell’s survival and proliferation and therefore, clinically relevant in aging, cancer, and brain function, among others. 

In 1996, using small molecule trapoxin, he isolated histone deacetylases (HDACs), and was the first person to isolate HDAC. 

By the turn of the millennium, Schreiber coined the terms of diversity-oriented synthesis (DOS), chemical genetics, and ChemBank public database, and through these tools, have uncovered small-molecule probes for many significant biological pathways. 

Schreiber has consulted & collaborated with numerous pharmaceutical companies and also involved in founding many biotechnology companies, such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Forma Therapeutics, H3 Biomedicine, and Jnana Therapeutics. 

He is the member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received dozens of national and international awards including the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1989), Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry (1997), the ACS Award in Bioorganic Chemistry (1997), and the Society for Biomolecular Screening Achievement Award (2004), Award of the American Association of Cancer Institutes (2004), Arthur C. Cope Award (2014), Nagoya Medal (2015), and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2016). 

The above biographical information was adapted from Professor Ohyun Kwon’s introduction of Schreiber at the lecture.

About the Distinguished Lecture Series

The UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Distinguished Lecture Series is a department-wide colloquium in a special week once per quarter when there are no other seminars in our department. Since beginning the series in 2013, we have invited some of the world’s most accomplished and engaging scientists to speak – Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold (Caltech), David Baker (University of Washington), Zhenan Bao (Stanford), Jacqueline Barton (Caltech), Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech (University of Colorado, Boulder), Francois Diederich (ETH Zurich), Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna (UC Berkeley), Emily Carter (UCLA), Harry Gray (Caltech), Sharon Hammes-Schiffer (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Barry Honig (Columbia), Nobel Laureate Roger Kornberg (Stanford), Yi Lu (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Victoria Orphan (Caltech), Kimberly Prather (UCSD, Scripps), Douglas Rees (Caltech), JoAnne Stubbe (MIT), George Whitesides (Harvard). Their lectures have consistently encouraged thought-provoking conversations and ideas.

The Spring and Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 Distinguished Lectures were cancelled due to the pandemic. For more information, visit the Distinguished Lecture series website.

Dr. Daniel G. Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, is scheduled to give the Fall 2021 Distinguished Lecture during the week of October 11, 2021 at 4:00 p.m., either virtually or on campus depending upon the restrictions at that time. Details will be announced closer to the date. 

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.