Biochemist Glenn Millhauser honored for protein structure research

Glenn Millhauser

Glenn Millhauser, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, has been chosen to receive the 2012 Silver Medal in Biology/Medicine from the International Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Society. The prestigious award has been bestowed only three times in the past ten years.

EPR, also known as electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, is an advanced technique for revealing molecular structure. The award recognizes Millhauser "for his outstanding research and service in the EPR community." The citation further notes that Millhauser's work "sets the highest standards for rigor in the application of EPR spectroscopy to reveal biological structure and mechanism, and the molecular origins of human disease."

The award will be presented during a ceremony at the Rocky Mountain EPR Symposium in Copper Mountain, Colorado, July 15-19.

Millhauser has been working in the field of EPR spectroscopy since he was a graduate student at Cornell University, when he developed the first two-dimensional EPR experiments. As a faculty member at UCSC since 1988, he has used the technique in pioneering investigations of the structural and dynamic properties of proteins, work that has led to a better understanding of human biology and diseases.

"Professor Millhauser has cleverly used a combination of biochemical and physical methods to solve important problems at the interface between chemistry and biology," said Ilan Benjamin, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz. "His groundbreaking work has significantly enhanced our understanding of the structure and dynamics of proteins whose functions are critical for understanding fundamental processes in the brain."

Much of Millhauser's recent EPR research has focused on the role of prion proteins in neurodegenerative diseases. A misfolded form of the normal cellular prion protein causes fatal neurodegenerative brain disorders such as mad cow disease in cattle and the related human affliction, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Millhauser's work on the copper-binding properties of prion proteins has yielded important insights into prion mutations and inherited cases of CJD (see related news story).

Millhauser has also made important contributions to the understanding of a molecular signaling system known as the melanocortin pathway, which appears to be involved in diseases related to energy balance, including diabetes, obesity, and anorexia (see earlier news story).

With more than 1,000 members worldwide, the International Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Society seeks to stimulate scientific development of EPR; facilitate communication among researchers; and encourage the use of this technique across a wide variety of research fields.