EVMS scientist Howard White, PhD, recognized some familiar faces last week when the Nobel Committee awarded its annual prize in chemistry.
Dr. White, a Professor of Physiological Sciences at EVMS, is a long-term collaborator with Joachim Frank, PhD, at Columbia University Medical School, and Richard Henderson, PhD, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. They are two of the three scientists sharing the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing cryo-electron microscopy to determine the structure of biomolecules.
Dr. White's role was to help develop the tools that the Nobel scientists and others in this field commonly use to prepare rapidly frozen samples for examination using specialized cryo-electron microscopes. Dr. White began his work in the lab of John Trinick, PhD, in Bristol, England, during a sabbatical year from EVMS supported by a Fogarty Senior International Fellowship. That's where Dr. White met Dr. Henderson.
“Previously, sample preparation was done manually,” Dr. White explained recently, while demonstrating his first machine and the latest version used in his lab. “Trinick and I built a machine that helped automate the process."
Over the last 20 years, Dr. White has continued to tweak and improve the design of the rapid-freezing apparatus, often using components purchased at the local hardware store or on Ebay.
Dr. White and Dr. Frank work together often and recently co-authored a review article on time-resolved cryo-electron microscopy that has been accepted for publication. For a decade, Dr. White served on an advisory panel for a grant that supported Dr. Frank’s work to develop advanced microscopic methods. Earlier this year, Dr. Frank wrote a letter in support of an NIH grant application submitted by Dr. White and his EVMS colleague, Vitold Galkin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physiological Sciences, which received a fundable score.
Dr. White has spent his career doing research to better understand how “molecular machines” work. His focus has been on “myosin motor” proteins that use the energy from chemicals in the body to power mechanical movements, such as those in muscle. Drs. White, Galkin and Eva Forgacs, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiological Sciences, form a group of laboratories in EVMS Physiological Sciences that are funded by NIH and the American Heart Association to study the structure and function of myosin and related motor proteins.
The research, Dr. White says, will make it possible to design drugs and other interventions for protein defects that cause problems like heart failure, deafness, blindness and neurological abnormalities.