The Pew Charitable Trusts have named Northwestern University chemical biologist Alexander V. Statsuk a 2012 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.

Statsuk currently is working on designing new therapeutics that one day could be used to treat cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and cystic fibrosis.

Statsuk, an assistant professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is one of only 22 Pew Scholars named this year nationwide. Statsuk is the sixth Pew Scholar at Northwestern since the program began in 1985.

Pew Scholars are selected for demonstrated excellence and innovation in research relevant to the advancement of human health. Each receives $240,000 over four years to pursue his or her research without restriction. The competitive program enables early-career scientists in medicine or the biomedical sciences to take calculated risks, expand their research and explore unanticipated leads.

Statsuk, who came to Northwestern in 2010, is working on designing a drug that inhibits cellular protein recycling. When proteins become damaged or are no longer needed, they are removed from circulation by a coordinated system that destroys all proteins tagged with a specific molecule called ubiquitin. To learn more about how this system works, Statsuk is generating molecules that will allow him to turn off the machinery that attaches the ubiquitin tag, called ubiquitin ligase.

A member of Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, Statsuk is cross-cutting fields of biochemistry, bioinformatics and cell, structural and molecular biology to study a region of the ligase that is particularly vulnerable. In preliminary work, Statsuk already has identified 40 candidate molecules that can inhibit the ligase. If they can be tailored to inhibit the ligase’s function, Statsuk will have established a powerful new tool that could be the basis for new therapeutics for treating a variety of diseases that involve protein recycling, including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and cystic fibrosis.

In its history, the Pew program has invested more than $130 million to fund more than 500 scientists. Statsuk joins a community of researchers that includes Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows and recipients of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.

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