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Biology professor takes AAAS post

Published: January 21, 2011
Section: News

PHOTO BY Nafiz R "Fizz" Ahmed/The Hoot

Professor Lizbeth Hedstrom (BIO) was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for her work on enzyme structure-function relationship, joining 502 others who will formally be awarded their position on Feb. 19 at the AAAS Fellows Forum in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1848, the society encompasses hundreds of various affiliated groups and well-respected scientific journal “Science.”

“This is a really nice validation of my work,” Hedstrom, a mechanistic enzymologist, said. “We’re very excited about it. So yeah, I guess it is the pinnacle so far.” She certainly does not see herself, however, as the only person who should be commended in this instance.

“This really isn’t just my work. There [are] a lot of students and post-docs. [Both] graduate students and undergrads who contributed and none of this would have happened without them,” she said.

Born in Maryland in 1958, Hedstrom, with an engineer father and a chemist mother, was exposed to science early on. She described her special interest in chemistry as the foundation of her work today. “I liked all the subjects, but the thing that really drew me to chemistry was I found that I liked it even when the teaching wasn’t very good. So just something about the way molecules fit together and interact with other molecules just really excited me.”

Hedstrom started her education at the University of Virginia, and then attended Brandeis as a graduate student. Following graduation in 1986, she spent seven years doing post-doctoral work at the University of California in San Francisco. Hedstrom then returned to Brandeis in 1992 where she has worked in both the Biology and Chemistry departments. When discussing her day-to-day routine she showed an air of being envious of the students who work for her.

“I walk into my office and I sit at my computer and I work all day on my computer. So my students actually get to do the fun stuff … I remember when I was a post-doc at University of California San Francisco, I would be walking down the halls with my little racks full of test tubes and I would see this poor professor and he would sit at his little desk and he would type all day and I would think ‘what a poor sap, that guy’ … and now I’m him.”

Professor Hedstrom’s work has many applications. “Basically, I’m interested in how enzymes work, and I’m also interested in designing molecules that interact with enzymes, and those compounds could be drugs or they could be [tools] used to study how a protein or an enzyme works in a cell. So there [are] a lot of applications on the medical side, a lot [of applications] on the industrial side,” she said.

Currently, she is working on a project to develop anti-parasitic drugs. Generally, she attempts to target and block the enzymes responsible for the precursors of RNA and DNA of such parasites in order to stop their growth. Specifically, there is a parasite she and her coworkers are working on that causes malnutrition and, while it would not be very damaging to the average person, to someone who has a weakened immune system, it could be fatal. There is even, according to Hedstrom, a possibility that such a parasite could be used in a form of biological terrorism.