UMass Medical School investigator named 2014 Pew Scholar

June 24th, 2014
Brian A. Kelch, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been named a 2014 Pew Scholar by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Credit: Rob Carlin for UMass Medical School
Brian A. Kelch, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been named a 2014 Pew Scholar by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences provides $240,000 in funding over four years to young investigators of outstanding promise who are doing biomedical research relevant to the advancement of human health. Dr. Kelch is one of 22 early career researchers named to this year's class and the seventh UMMS faculty to receive the award.

"It's tremendously exciting to be included among this year's outstanding class of Pew Scholars," said Kelch. "The Pew Scholars Program provides young researchers an opportunity to develop new collaborations and exchange ideas from a network of established and newly independent scientists doing innovative and creative research."

Kelch, who joined UMMS in 2012, will use the Pew award to elucidate the mechanical principles of the molecular engine that drives the production of many disease-causing viruses. This powerful molecular motor, if disrupted, has the potential to be a new therapeutic target for antiviral treatments.

Most viruses consist of a set of genetic instructions—either DNA or RNA—inside a container made of protein. For viruses that use double-stranded DNA as their genetic material, including the herpes virus and the adenovirus that causes respiratory infections, the protein-based shell or "capsid" is assembled first, and the viral DNA is then pumped into it.

"The molecular machine that performs this pumping is one of the strongest biological motors known," Kelch said. "The pressure inside the viral capsid is 10 times that of bottled champagne. The motor has to generate a tremendous amount of force in order to get the DNA inside that tight space."

Using an innovative combination of structural, biochemical and biophysical techniques, Kelch and his lab will explore how this motor recognizes the viral DNA and pushes the DNA into the capsid.

Kelch joins a community of more than 500 Pew scholars whose ranks include multiple recipients of Nobel Prizes, Lasker Awards, and MacArthur Fellowships.

Launched in 1985, the Pew scholars program supports top U.S. scientists at the assistant professor level and provides funding to seed innovation at the start of their independent research careers allowing them to take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to maximize the benefits of their research for society. They are selected based on proven creativity by a national advisory committee composed of eminent scientists, including chairman Craig C. Mello, PhD, Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine at UMMS, a 1995 Pew scholar and a 2006 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine.

"Scientific breakthroughs often come from seemingly unlikely origins, which is why it's so important to give young scientists the freedom and the support they need to pursue their most creative ideas," Dr. Mello said. "It is our privilege to help these outstanding investigators pursue new research paths and work with peers across disciplines in order to advance biomedical science and ultimately benefit human health."

"This award allows me to augment a line of research in our lab that started off as a side project, but which has now become a critical component of the work we're doing," said Kelch.

Kelch received a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics in 2007 from the University of California, San Francisco, where he worked with David A. Agard, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics. He conducted postdoctoral research with 1989 Pew Scholar and former Pew Scholar advisor John Kuriyan, PhD, Chancellor's professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Provided by University of Massachusetts Medical School

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