Chmielewski and her research team at Purdue University "design and create new compounds particularly the architectural [aspect] is really what inspires me," said the bioorganic chemist. One focus is devise molecular "wedges" that disrupt the ability of the AIDS virus to reproduce and spread infection throughout the body.
Current AIDS drugs try to block the action of HIV proteins once they're made in an infected cell. Chmielewski tries to keep those proteins from being made in the first place.
Her approach is based on the fact that HIV proteins are doubles, or dimers, and only work when two copies are bound to each other. Chmielewski's wedges block the copies from locking together properly.
"The wedges are little mimics of the binding site," she explained. "The challenge is finding that grain of sand that gums up the process and then making it small enough to get into an infected cell." Several candidates have been tested in HIV-infected cells and initial results are promising, she added.
"Jean is a very determined, driven scientist with an outstanding background and with an equally outstanding personality," wrote a colleague to support her nomination for the award. Another described her as "energetic and an exceptional role model for young scientists."
As she grew up, Chmielewski first experimented not with a traditional chemistry set but simply with items found in her mother's kitchen. "I'd grow crystals and things like that," she remembered. "I knew very early on that I wanted to be a scientist, but what kind of scientist took a long time to evolve. Then I realized my chemistry classes clicked with my world vi
Contact: Sharon Worthy
American Chemical Society