Dr. Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and National Academy of Sciences member who founded the field of biorthogonal chemistry, has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research named for one of the most honored faculty members in Texas A&M University history.
The medal is jointly awarded each year by the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry and the Texas A&M Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in tribute to Dr. Albert Cotton, a Texas A&M distinguished professor of chemistry widely considered one of the world’s foremost inorganic chemists who passed away on February 20, 2007. He was the inaugural recipient of the medal when it was first awarded in 1995.
Bertozzi will be formally presented with the Cotton Medal in conjunction with a related award lecture at Texas A&M, set to be delivered at a later date this year.
In addition to the Bass Professorship, Bertozzi holds courtesy appointments as a professor of chemical and systems biology and of radiology while also serving as co-director of Stanford ChEM-H, an interdisciplinary institute focused on translational molecular science. She is best known for founding a new field of chemistry, biorthogonal chemistry — a term Bertozzi coined that refers to any reaction that can occur inside or outside a cell without interfering with the cell’s normal functions. Such methods provide scientists with a chemical toolbox to study, understand and manipulate parts of the cell — techniques that, in many cases, have led to better ways to diagnose, prevent or treat diseases, among other applications.
“The concept of bioorthogonal chemistry, developed by Carolyn Bertozzi, has fundamentally changed both basic and applied biological research,” said Dr. Wenshe R. Liu, professor of chemistry and holder of the Gradipore Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M. “It has inspired numerous paradigm-shifting chemical tools that have been developed to understand biology at both systematic and atomic levels. Its far-reaching impacts are continuously expanding.”
A Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 2000, Bertozzi was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 at the age of 39 as one of the youngest chemists inducted in the history of the institution. To date, she has co-founded six biotechnology companies while advising several others, either as a consultant or as a scientific advisory board member. She also is a member of the Eli Lilly and Company Board of Directors.
Bertozzi earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Harvard University in 1988 and her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993. After postdoctoral work in cellular immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, she joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1996. Bertozzi moved her lab to Stanford in June 2015 to become part of Stanford’s ChEM-H institute and soon after launched the Chemistry/Biology Interface Training Program to produce scientists and physician-scientists who can work and communicate across disciplines by bridging gaps and leveraging perspectives.
Bertozzi’s research interests likewise span the disciplines of chemistry and biology, with an emphasis on studies of cell surface sugars important to human health and disease. Her research group lab profiles changes in cell surface glycosylation associated with cancer, inflammation and bacterial infection — information they then use to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, most recently in the area of immuno-oncology. Several of her inventions have been translated to commercial settings, including a technology for site-specific protein modification that is now used in antibody-drug conjugates currently in human clinical trials; antibody-enzyme conjugates that are in preclinical development for a new kind of cancer immunotherapy; and a platform for tuberculosis detection in patient sputum samples at the point of care.
“Carolyn Bertozzi is the pioneering chemical biologist who led the way across the gulf that separated chemistry and glycobiology,” said Dr. Tadhg P. Begley, distinguished professor of chemistry and the Robert A. Welch Chair and Derek Barton Professor in Chemistry at Texas A&M. “In addition to her extensive research contributions, she has also served as an inspiring research mentor to a large number of outstanding researchers who continue to widen chemistry’s footprint in this complex and important area of biology.”
In addition to the National Academy of Sciences, Bertozzi has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2003), the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (2008), the National Academy of Medicine (2011) and National Academy of Inventors (2013) and is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. Her many awards include the 2020 Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize, the American Chemical Society’s 2017 Arthur C. Cope Award, the 2016 National Academy of Sciences Award in the Chemical Sciences, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the 2012 Heinrich Wieland Prize, the 2010 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the 2007 Ernst Schering Prize and a 1999 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. She also holds honorary doctorates from Brown University, Duke University and Freie University in Berlin.
“The concept of bioorthogonal chemistry, a term coined by Carolyn Bertozzi, has fundamentally changed both basic and applied biological research,” said Dr. Wenshe R. Liu, professor of chemistry and holder of the Gradipore Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M. “It has inspired numerous paradigm-shifting chemical tools that have been developed to understand biology at both systematic and atomic levels. Its far-reaching impacts are continuously expanding.”
Cotton came to Texas A&M as the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University in 1972 from MIT, where at age 31 in 1961, he had become the youngest MIT faculty member to attain the rank of full professor. His pioneering 35-year career at Texas A&M revolutionized several fields of chemistry, including inorganic chemistry, protein chemistry, structural chemistry and chemical bonding. Cotton was the originator of and leading authority in the field of compounds containing single and multiple bonds between metal atoms. His other principal contributions dealt with protein structure, spectroscopic studies of metal carbonyls, and the dynamic behavior of fluxional organometallic and metal carbonyl compounds.
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