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April 26, 2013
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Top researchers to receive honorary degrees from Upstate

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Aaron J. Ciechanover, M.D., D.Sc., and David A. Clayton, Ph.D., will receive Doctor of Science honorary degrees from the State University of New York at Upstate Medical University’s Commencement ceremony Sunday, May 19.

Ciechanover, with his collaborators, Avram Hershko, M.D., Ph.D., and Irwin Rose, Ph.D., received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of ubiquitin mediated protein degradation that revolutionized today’s approach to treating cancer and that created new pathways to develop more effective therapies for neurodegenerative disorders and other genetic diseases.

Clayton has explored the molecular aspects of mitochondrial genome organization, maintenance, and expression in various mammalian cell types which has led to an understanding of the modes of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication and transcription and the identification of key trans-acting proteins encoded by nuclear genes. Recent investigations in this field have pointed to the importance of mitochondrial function in a variety of critical cell signaling pathways.

Aaron Ciechanover, M.D., D.Sc.

Ciechanover is Distinguished Research Professor of the Cancer and Vascular Biology Research Center, The Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. In addition to the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, he is the recipient of the Albert Lasker Award; the Israel Prize; and the Humboldt Research Award.

At a time when most research focused on how cells produce various proteins, which are essential for maintaining the body’s health and wellness, Ciechanover and his colleagues investigated how these proteins are destroyed and disposed of once they have served their purpose. Dysfunction of this process can lead to a wide array of diseases, ranging from cancer to neurodegenerative disorders to other genetic diseases.

Their discovery of the ubiquitin-proteasome system led to the creation of the cancer drug Velcade and other drugs that are capable of targeting only sick cells within the body. Their findings also led to a greater understanding of how the cell controls a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others. Examples of processes governed by ubiquitin mediated protein degradation are cell division, DNA repair, quality control of newly produced proteins, and important parts of the immune defense.

“Dr. Ciechanover’s influence upon research has been enhanced by his interest in forming international organizations that encourage collaboration,” said David R. Smith, M.D., president of Upstate Medical University. “Dr. Ciechanover and Dr. Steven Goodman, of Upstate’s College of Graduate Studies, were instrumental in founding the International Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Technology (IIBMST) in 2009. The IIBMST works to facilitate the collaboration of research across three continents and accelerate the development of novel bioengineering, diagnostic and biomedical products for the treatment and cure of disease.”

The work of Ciechanover’s laboratory is currently focused on the normal function of proteolysis and the implication of its aberrations in pathogenesis. This focus on such diseases as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders parallels and informs work in oncology and ALS at Upstate.

David A. Clayton, Ph.D.

Clayton has served the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in leadership roles since 1996. Most recently, he served as vice president for research operations. He is currently laboratory head at the HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn,Va.

His current research interests are in the interface between the molecular dynamics of mtDNA and extramitochondrial signaling events. He is also exploring model systems in which to study the roles of the mitochondria in synapse development, maintenance, and degeneration. This is in context with neuronal networking themes at the Janelia Farm Research Campus.

“As one of the pioneers in the field of mitochondrial research, David Clayton helped to develop techniques and define mechanisms which are used by numerous researchers in this field,” said Smith. “Several biochemists in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Upstate are engaged in work in areas related to Dr. Clayton’s.”

These researchers include Mark Schmitt, Ph.D., professor in Upstate’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Schmitt completed his four-year postdoctoral training in Clayton’s laboratory at Stanford and he continues to research areas related to his earlier work with Clayton, including the enzyme RNase MRP.

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