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Schwans Receives Prestigious RCSA Grant For Enzyme Research

Published: June 16, 2014

Jason Schwans (r) with student Nixon  Corpuz

PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Jason Schwans (r) with student Nixon Corpuz.

Naturally occurring catalysts in the body are called enzymes and they encourage or inhibit chemical/biological reactions without themselves being consumed in the process. Molecules created in the lab also affect such reactions, but researchers long ago discovered that these molecules are usually much less effective than enzymes, even though they may be composed of the same chemical groups.

Why?

Jason Schwans, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at CSULB, has received a prestigious grant from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to answer that question.

“Understanding how enzymes achieve their success is crucial to understanding biological function and may aid the design and application of enzymes and enzyme inhibitors that act as drugs,” Schwans said.

Schwans and his students will investigate what distinguishes carrying-out reactions in enzymes compared to catalysts created in the lab. In particular, both processes often hinge on the donation and acceptance of protons, a common feature of biological reactions. But enzymes have an advantage over drugs when it comes to rate enhancement—the ability to sustain a chemical reaction at a certain level—and specificity, the ability to act precisely without causing side effects.

“Our studies of enzyme function provide students extensive hands-on opportunities to apply what they learned in the classroom to cutting edge research,” said Schwans. “Further, our fundamental studies offer the opportunity for students to be involved in every aspect of our work from designing and performing experiments to analyzing the data and thinking about what to do next.”

They will use “unnatural amino acids”–lab-created compounds–to vary the chemical structures of specific enzymes and related drug compounds and compare and contrast the results.

“RCSA embraces the risk associated with funding early-stage discovery research such as this because of its potential to catalyze valuable new science leading to substantial rewards for society,” said RCSA President Robert Shelton.

Schwans received his award under RCSA’s Cottrell College Science program. It was created in the early 1970s to promote basic research as a vital component of undergraduate education at the nation’s public and private small colleges and universities.

During the past 15 years, the Cottrell College Science Awards, which are carefully reviewed by a panel of top scientists, have supported the research work of more than 1,300 early career scientists in 400 institutions.

“These grants provide funds and encouragement for young professors to pursue their research, while at the same time encouraging them to bring their students into the lab to assist in real-world research projects,” said Shelton. “It is a highly effective way to help young scientists just starting out, as well as to encourage the next generation of students to enter America’s scientific workforce.”

About Research Corporation for Science Advancement
Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) was founded in 1912 and is the second-oldest foundation in the United States (after the Carnegie Corporation) and the oldest foundation for science advancement.RCSA is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and of research in America’s colleges and universities.

–Dan Huff