Amy Rosenzweig picks up a Rubik’s Cube–like paperweight with a colorful, spiral structure printed on one side.
“This side commemorates that I determined the complicated structure of a protein in graduate school, which ended up launching my career in chemistry,” says Rosenzweig, who holds joint appointments in chemistry and molecular biosciences in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
The ribbon-like picture is a rendering of a protein structure, she explains. Each chain represents a three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
Commemorative cube recognizing the protein structure Amy Rosenzweig determined in graduate school.
Proteins play many critical roles in the human body, including fighting off viruses and bacteria, building tissues and organs, and regulating gene expression. And because proteins are at the center of so many important functions, they are also central to understanding all types of disease.
Throughout her career, Rosenzweig has zeroed in on the relationship between proteins and metals such as copper and iron— both in the human body and in the environment.
“Many diseases are linked to abnormal metal metabolism, having too much or too little of a crucial metal,” says Rosenzweig, “and it’s also been shown that there’s an interplay between bacteria, metals and proteins that causes infection in the body.”
In 2003 Rosenzweig was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for her work studying the role of metal metabolism in diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Since then, she has continued this line of work, adding to it an exploration of the development of treatments for diseases resulting from metal overload.
“Receiving the MacArthur award was a nice validation that the work I’m passionate about is worth exploring and can make a difference in the world,” she says.
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