Chemistry has acquired the reputation of being a difficult subject.
However, Jenn Prescher, who recently won the prestigious Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for her work in bioluminescence imaging, thinks this is an unfair assessment.
“Chemistry usually has a very negative connotation, but it doesn’t deserve it”, insists the professor and researcher in chemical biology.
Prescher began her love affair with science at Blue Earth, where she was raised by her parents Willie and Barb Prescher.
“I have been very lucky to be part of the Blue Earth Area school system,” Prescher thinks. “I left with very solid knowledge not only in science and mathematics, which particularly interests me, but also excellent basics in reading and writing. »
Prescher remembers the late Dan Gilpin as one of his favorite teachers at Blue Earth High School.
“He planted an early seed of interest in being able to make things and think about molecules,” she says. “He was very inspiring.”
After high school, Prescher attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she began her strong career in scientific research.
“I was more interested in math and engineering before going to college,”Prescher admits. “But, when I took chemistry class, it was fun for me – like a puzzle.”
Recognizing her passion and potential, Prescher’s organic chemistry instructor encouraged her to get involved in a university research project.
“We basically designed small molecular probes to look at serotonin receptors,”Precher explains. The probes have made it possible to better understand the functioning of the receptors.
“Working in this research lab, I discovered that you can basically do research for a living,”said Precher. Needless to say she was hooked.
Prescher applied for graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry.
While at Berkeley, Prescher had the opportunity to work alongside Carolyn Bertozzi, who was recently awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work in the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.
“In his laboratory, I made a mixture of chemistry and biology”,Prescher remembers. “I was first exposed to how you can use both chemistry and biology to make discoveries.”
Their research focused on using chemical principles and tools to understand biology, manipulating chemical reactions in organisms that could be used to track or tag specific particles, and therefore image the sugar structures of cells. .
“(Sugar structures) often alter the physiological state of the cell”,Speak note.
As such, the work has important applications in the field of medical research, where it can be used as a diagnostic tool. For example, Prescher explains that the sugar structures of a cancer cell appear differently from those of a normal cell.
After her time at Berkeley, Prescher became a molecular imaging researcher at Stanford University, where she was able to learn more about medical imaging.
“I started my own imaging group from there,”said Precher. “I used chemical probes and chemical tools to basically image biological processes.”
Through his current research at the University of California, Irvine, Prescher is applying the same reaction a firefly uses to produce light to manipulate cells. It captures the light emission responses of cells using an imaging technique called “bioluminescence imaging”.
“We use it to track metastatic cancer cells,”said Precher.
She was recently recognized for her work with the Cope Scholar Award 2023, a highly prestigious award that celebrates excellence in research in organic chemistry.
The award consists of a $5,000 prize, a certificate, and an unrestricted research grant of $40,000. Recipients are also invited to speak at the Arthur C. Cope Symposium at the AEC Fall National Meeting.
Prescher is one of 10 2023 Cope Scholars from around the world. His colleague, Professor Suzanne Blum, also became a 2023 Cope Scholar this year.
“We both won the award individually,”said Precher. “There are only a few handed out each year, and we were both in the same department.”
Prescher adds, “Few women have won the award.”She cites the development as an admirable reflection of the world-class chemistry department at the University of California, Irvine.
The prize’s $40,000 unrestricted research grant provides Prescher with an excellent opportunity to pursue unique projects in the future.
“(Unrestricted grants are) often best used to pilot really wacky ideas that taxpayer dollars won’t fund,”she explains. “I sort of save them for pie-in-the-sky work.”
A mentor to many promising young chemists at the University of California, Irvine, Prescher often has the opportunity to pursue new projects alongside bright and motivated students. It’s one of the things she enjoys the most about her job.
“I can be part of their discoveries in the lab, and also be part of their journeys as they begin to define their own career paths,”she says. “It’s the thrill of discovery, but also the education of the next generation.”
Prescher sees chemical biology as an integral and promising area for future research.
“Having a background in chemistry is extraordinarily powerful in biology,”said Precher. “Biology is chemistry. Knowing how to think about biomolecules and all these processes is very powerful. This can have a major impact. »