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April 5, 2007


Marisa Winkler '08, Aspiring Drug Designer, Wins Goldwater Scholarship, IUPAC Award


Marisa Winkler '08, a chemistry major with a concentration in biochemistry, has had a banner week: she was notified that she has won two prestigious national awards.

The International Union of Applied and Pure Chemistry awarded her one of three 2007 IUPAC Poster Prizes for the work she displayed at a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. The following day, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced that she had been awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

Each year, about 300 students at American colleges and universities are named Goldwater Scholars; the program was established by Congress to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Winkler dreams of a career creating designer molecules that treat genetically based diseases by binding to DNA and changing the way genes are expressed.

The Chemistry Experience in France

Winkler's award-winning poster presented research she did in France last summer, at the Université Paul Sabatier, a science-and-technology institute in Toulouse. In the laboratory of Christophe Coudret, she worked on the synthesis of a new photochromic molecule — a molecule whose properties change when it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Although fluency in French was not required for the international internship, Winkler says that two years of French courses at Bryn Mawr stood her in good stead. Back at Bryn Mawr, she is now serving as the dorm president of the Haffner French residence hall.

Laboratory work at Université Paul Sabatier, she found, proceeded at a more relaxed pace than her work at Bryn Mawr has, partly because so many researchers were competing for equipment.

"And no work is done in August," she says. "Everybody goes on vacation."

Winkler took the opportunity to backpack through Europe. She caught the last day of the international film festival at Cannes, spent time in Nice, Rome and Paris, as well as touring Germany, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. The long French vacation season didn't, however, prevent her from getting a lot of work done. The IUPAC awards committee was, it said, "particularly impressed both by the research [she was] able to accomplish during [her] time in France and by [her] excellent presentation and discussion of it during the session."

Goldwater Scholarship Looks Toward the Future

The Goldwater Scholarship is widely considered the premier undergraduate award of its type in the United States, and Goldwater Scholars have a history of high achievement in science and technology fields. This year's scholars are selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,110 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Almost all of them plan to pursue Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields.

Winkler's career goal is to earn an M.D./Ph.D and conduct research into drug design and synthesis at either the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization or a pharmaceutical company. A long-term planner, Winkler has goals even for the distant future; in retirement, she would like to join the nonprofit NGO Doctors Without Borders.

At Bryn Mawr, Winkler is getting a solid introduction to experimental drug design in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Chemistry William Malachowski. Winkler is contributing to Malachowski's effort to synthesize a more potent version of a molecule that inhibits the body's production of an enzyme called indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, or IDO.

IDO works by degrading tryptophan, an essential ingredient in the immune system's T-cells. The absence of T-cells allows tumors to grow without interference from the body's defenses.

A chemical that occurs naturally in cruciferous vegables like broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts has a mild inhibiting effect on IDO, but it is too weak to be effective as a drug.

"We're trying to make one that works better," says Winkler.


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