Visionary | UCI News

Krzysztof “Kris” Palczewski, Donald Bren Professor of Ophthalmology at UCI School of Medicine, admits during the Zoom interview for this story that his mind is elsewhere.

“We have a document under review at the moment which should be accepted at any time,” he explains. “I check every 15 minutes and haven’t checked in the last 12 minutes while we were talking.”

Uh, should we take a break? “Just kidding,” Palczewski replies. “The paper is with Carol Robinson and has now been accepted for publication in Nature.”

Dame Carol V. Robinson is the first female professor of chemistry at Oxford University in the UK, where she heads the Kavli Institute for NanoScience Discovery, and is the former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The paper produced by Palczewski and Robinson and their research teams will unveil a new methodology for examining membrane proteins with mass spectrometry.

“It’s truly groundbreaking work, and it will be published in about four weeks,” he says. “It’s about detecting pharmaceutical agents in the body and knowing how far they enter the eye, where they reside, and what complexes they form.”

Palczewski, who holds 29 issued patents and nine patents pending, calls the technique “sophisticated” and “extremely novel.”

Holder of the Irving H. Leopold Chair in Ophthalmology and Director of the Translational Vision Research Center at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the UCI, he was recently named the recipient of the 2022 Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman Prize in Receptor Pharmacology by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

“Dr. Palczewski receives this award in recognition of his innovative and pioneering studies on the mechanisms of G-protein-coupled receptor activation that have led to a better understanding of receptor structure, signaling mechanisms, defects that lead to disease and treatments that preserve vision,” the ASPET announcement states.

A member of the US National Academy of Medicine and the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Palczewski has a habit of making room on his mantle for prestigious accolades, including the 2018 Paul Kayser International Prize in Retina Research from the International Society for Eye Research/Retina Research Foundation, the 2015 Bressler Prize in Vision Science from the Lighthouse Guild, and the 2014 Beckman-Argyros Premier Prize in Vision Research from the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation.

He is also one of the few people to have won both the Cogan Prize (1996), for the most promising young vision scientist, and the Friedenwald Prize (2014), for still outstanding research in ophthalmology, from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. .

His research applies multidisciplinary approaches to the study of phototransduction and the visual cycle to characterize the visual system in health and disease. The pursuit of such a comprehensive understanding of vision, including gene expression and transcriptional regulation, is essential to combat genetic defects, metabolic aberrations and environmental insults leading to blindness.

Palczewski’s work has led to groundbreaking advances in the use of biochemical perturbations for the early diagnosis of eye disease as well as patient stratification for the discovery and validation of pharmacological treatments to prevent or reverse retinal degenerative disorders.

His research has been cited over 54,000 times, with an H-index impact factor of 121, according to Google Scholar.

Palczewski traces his interest in vision back to his school days in his native Poland.

“I was fascinated by the beauty of chemistry in high school,” he says, before quoting as an example something that may not seem so simple to someone who cut too many chemistry lessons in high school: why vitamin A and its derivatives are essential nutrients in maintaining a healthy body and normal vision. In many countries, vitamin A deficiency has led to an increase in preventable cases of childhood blindness.

“It’s extremely simple and extremely elegant and also, by the same token, quite complex,” Palczewski – who holds a cross-appointment in the UCI Department of Chemistry – says of the above lesson. “So in high school I knew I wanted to be a scientist and I knew I wanted to work in vision. A lot of things happen in our lives that are accidental, but it wasn’t accidental.

He obtained a doctorate. in biochemistry at the Polish Technical University in Wroclaw and did postdoctoral training at the University of Florida. Palczewski then opened his own lab at Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, where he also served as an assistant professor at Oregon Health Sciences University. He then joined the University of Washington in Seattle, where in 2000 he published in Science his groundbreaking work on the structure of rhodopsin, cited by 7,033 publications.

Palczewski’s last stop before coming to UCI three and a half years ago was Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, where he was a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, which led him to a top nine ranking for the National Institutes of Health. funds in US medical schools, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

When asked about his thoughts on the UCI so far, Palczewski said: “I have a contract between me and the dean and the president that they guarantee that we will have the resources to do great research.”

OK so after spending so many years in Poland and the Pacific Northwest and Cleveland what does he think of the UCI climate given that we were zooming in on a day at 89 degrees in February?

Palczewski begins his response by setting the stage for his job interview, which took place over dinner with the dean and a close friend who is a biomedical engineer. “My friend took me aside and said, ‘Krzysztof, this is a beautiful place! You will work ! You get to be creative! And I think, of course, that’s funny, but it’s true. It’s less about fighting for life and survival. It’s a matter of geography and location.

“I also think the dean and my president are extremely supportive. I know how much work that takes. It’s a service to your community, and it’s a service to your faculty. It’s not about boosting your ego. It’s extremely exhausting if you want to do the job well. It’s really a 24 hour job. You care about everything, you try to anticipate what may interfere and you try to overcome it. So I think coming here has given me a boost of creativity and energy and, frankly, living my life like a dream. This is my dream life.

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