Prof. Takes Nobel Prize For Chemistry

    Roger Tsien, Nobel Laureate

    UCSD professor of pharmacology Roger Tsien won the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry yesterday for his role in discovering green fluorescent protein and developing the design of fluorescent molecules used to illuminate the inner workings of cells and track the movement of tagged proteins.

    Informed of the news by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences early Wednesday morning, Tsien will share the $1.4 million prize with Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and Martin Chalfie of Columbia University in New York City. The official awards ceremony will take place in Sweden this December.

    Tsien, 56, is a professor of pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD, and sums up his life’s work as “building molecules to look inside of cells, allowing us to see beyond what the human eye can see.”
    Before the discovery of fluorescent proteins, researchers interested in the intricacies of cellular functions had to resort to less effective and often destructive methods of investigation, such as injecting cells with dye.

    Using GFP as a research tool, however, scientists are able to view otherwise-invisible mechanisms by adding lights of certain wavelengths to proteins encoded with GDF, causing them to glow in fluorescent color without damaging the cell.

    Tsien’s main role in the research was to improve the qualitative facets of invention, finding ways to make the GDF glow with more strength and in a variety of colors, enabling scientists to tag certain proteins and track their movements in real time.

    He also developed technology that allowed proteins to change colors as their environment changed.

    During a press conference yesterday morning, Tsien thanked his family, colleagues, all those who have used his discoveries to advance science and the jellyfish Shimomura first used to discover and isolate GFP in the 1960s.

    “It’s been [fluorescing] for millions of years, though for reasons we still don’t understand,” Tsien said. “None of this would have happened without the jellyfish.”

    Tsien is now looking to work on treating cancer by targeting imaging agents and chemotherapy drugs at tumors.

    “I’ve always wanted to do something clinically relevant in my career, if possible, and cancer is the ultimate challenge,” Tsien said.

    Chancellor Marye Anne Fox offered her congratulations to the Nobel laureate.

    “I am delighted to join the entire UC San Diego community, including the hundreds of scientists and graduate students worldwide who have collaborated with him, in congratulating and saluting Roger Tsien for winning this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry,” Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said in a statement. “Roger joins the extraordinary and prestigious ranks of Nobel laureates at UC San Diego whose incredible scholarship is dedicated to improving the lives of people throughout the world.”

    Tsien earned a degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard College, received his doctorate at the University of Cambridge and first became a professor at UC Berkeley.

    He arrived to UCSD in 1989 and has been working with GFD technology at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

    “Dr. Tsien’s work has, and will continue to have, an enormous impact on human health by enabling researchers to study cells related to disease in detailed ways that had never before been possible,” School of Medicine Dean David Brenner said.

    Tsien is the 54th researcher affiliated with UCSD to have been awarded a Nobel Prize.

    CORRECTION: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has no specific location.

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