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Stephen C. Harrison Receives 2018 Rosenstiel Award

Professor, investigator and biophysicist Stephen C. Harrison received the 2018 Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research on Monday afternoon. In a lecture hall crowded with students and professors from all departments joined by President Ron Liebowitz, Chair of the Rosenstiel Biomedical Research Center Professor James Haber presented the award to Harrison.  

As the Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Professor of Basic Medical Sciences at Harvard and Children Hospital and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harrison studies virial structures using X-ray crystallography.

“Steve is not only a technical wiz[sic] but a true biologist interested in how crystallography and structure can illuminate behavior of biological system,” said Haber of Harrison.

After a brief introduction about the recipient, Haber also mentioned “Photograph 51,” a play at the Central Square Theater celebrating structural biology. The play is about the people involved in the discovery of DNA’s double helix. Donald L. D. Caspar, who was Harrison’s Ph.D. mentor at Brandeis, was part of the play’s storyline and spoke of Harrison next.

Casper talked about how his lab got started at Brandeis and also Harrison’s time there. “Steve designed a focusing X-ray camera with an intensity that no instruments at that time could capture,” said Caspar. He showed a photograph of himself and his colleagues in front of the Rosenstiel Biomedical Research Center and then also of Harrison carrying his data on a flat utility cart, which garnered laughs from the audience.  

After Caspar’s speech, Haber emphasized Harrison’s connection to Brandeis and how he has published multiple times with researchers at Brandeis. After listing many of Harrison’s accomplishments, Haber gave the microphone to Harrison.

Harrison gave an overview of his work. His presentation included colored crystal viral structures. The title of his presentation “Viruses, Proteins, and Cells” was a reference to “Proteins, Amino Acids, and Peptides,” a book by ­­­­Edward Cohen that had an important influence on him.

In his lecture, Harrison briefly talked protein self assembly and structure. The rest of his talk focused on viruses and genome delivery and included photographs and animations of many elaborate and colorful virus structures.

Viruses with membrane can fuse with the membrane of the cell and “dump its contents.” However, how viruses without a membrane, called non-enveloped membrane, entered the cell was a mystery that captured his interest. To answer this question, Harrison studied Rotaviruses, a double-stranded RNA virus, as they had properties that allowed him to “tackle the problem more systematically.”  

Harrison outlined his understanding of how Rotaviruses enter the cell in his talk. After trypsin activation, the virus attaches to the cell via cleavage of proteins on the virus’ surface. Invagination and vesiculation “appears driven by the virus particle itself than cellular machinery,” but this still needs to be sorted out, said Harrison. Then, calcium leaks and the virus particle escapes from the region where it was taken up and begins to transcribe in the cell.

Harrison went into more detail, which included unpublished work, in the rest of his lecture about how the structure of the virus allows for an auto endocytosis entry into the cell. He supplemented his talk with many high resolution images of the protein structures involved.

Harrison is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, a foreign member of EMBO and Royal Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Prior to Rosenstiel Award, Harrison won the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (along with Don Wiley and Michael Rossmann), the ICN International Prize in Virology, Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (with Michael Rossmann), the Bristol-Myers Squibb Distinguished Achievement Award in Infectious Disease Research, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Gregori Aminoff Prize in Crystallography, the UCSD/Merck Life Sciences Achievement Award in 2007 and the Welch Award in Chemistry in 2015.

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