The Scripps Research Institute
San Diego, California
Ernest and Jean Hahn Professor at the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, The Scripps Research Institute
One of the most fundamental questions facing scientists today is how seemingly normal cells become cancerous. To better understand how this happens, Dr. Paul Schimmel has dedicated more than 40 years to examining the minute forms and intricate functions of molecular biology.
In 1983, Dr. Schimmel developed the concept for what are now known as ESTs (expressed sequence tags) and the strategy of shotgun sequencing. These approaches were later adopted in the human genome project. In fact, his work on the development of ESTs is known as one of the four key developments that launched the human genome project.
Throughout his career, Dr. Schimmel has been one of the few scientists studying both nucleic acids and proteins. His laboratory identified the operational RNA code for amino acids – known as aminoacyl tRNA synthetases (aaRS) – which are believed to be among the first enzymes in the early stages of evolution. These enzymes are essential for all forms of life and establish the rules of genetic code. Humans express 20 different aaRS enzymes, each playing a pivotal role in gene expression.
With NFCR funding since 1994, Dr. Schimmel has advanced our understanding of the important role these essential enzymes play in defining the genetic code. Strong associations of some of these enzymes to human diseases has been revealed as well. These associations are now believed to be related to new functions of these proteins studied by Dr. Schimmel and his colleague, Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang. It now appears that, with these proteins, treatable diseases include chronic and acute inflammation, neuropathy, and cancer progression and metastasis.
In subsequent studies, they established how specific human tRNA synthetases play a role in blood vessel formation – called angiogenesis. This work has led to efforts to develop tRNA synthetases to treat diseases such as macular degeneration and cancers.
Dr. Schimmel’s team discovered that one type of tRNA – TyrRS – plays an important role in platelet production and maintenance. Platelets are the tiny blood vessels responsible for forming blood clots; they are often damaged during chemotherapy and cause dangerous bleeding disorders. Dr. Schimmel’s team is developing a TyrRS-based treatment that corrects this damaging side effect. His work now on aaRS, SerRS, demonstrates it to have both anti- tumor and anti-metastasis properties in breast cancer.
Paul Schimmel, Ph.D., is a biophysical chemist and he received his B.A. in biochemistry and biophysics from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1962, and then went on to earn his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Currently, Dr. Schimmel is the Ernest and Jean Hahn Professor of Molecular Biology and Chemistry at The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at The Scripps Research Institute. He formerly was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Department of Biology at MIT.
Throughout his career, Dr. Schimmel has received numerous honors and awards, including the American Chemical Society’s Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry, the Biophysical Society’s Emily M. Gray Award for significant contributions to education in biophysics, the Chinese Biopharmaceutical Association Brilliant Achievement Award and the Stein and Moore Award of the Protein Society. He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Institute of Medicine. He has also been active in many scientific and academic organizations and committees, including serving as Chairman of the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society. In addition to these honors and positions, Ohio Wesleyan University (his undergraduate alma mater) conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Science Degree.
Dr. Schimmel has given many honorary lectures, including the Peter Debye Lectures (Cornell University), the Sherman Beychok Lecture (Columbia University), the Reilly Lectures (University of Notre Dame), the Mildred Cohn Lecture (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine), the University Lecture Series (University of Texas Health Sciences Center (Dallas), the Stanley Gill Memorial Lecture (University of Colorado), the Sir Hans Krebs Lecture (Sheffield, UK), the Nucleic Acids Award Lecture (Biochemical Society and Royal Society of Chemistry, UK), Henry Kamin Lecture (Duke University), the Perlman Lecture Award (American Chemical Society) and the Marker Lecture Series (Pennsylvania State University).
Dr. Schimmel is the author or co-author of more than 400 scientific papers and a widely-used three-volume textbook on biophysical chemistry, and he’s an editorial board member of ten different scientific journals.