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Amy Grunbeck

130613_0612_convocation-v2Amy Grunbeck

Presented by Thomas P. Sakmar
B.S., Dickinson College
Application of Genetically-encoded Photoactivatable Crosslinkers to Map Ligand-binding Sites on G Protein Coupled Receptors






It is a privilege to present to you Amy Grunbeck.

Before coming to New York, Amy received her B.S. degree with honors from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she won the American Institute of Chemists award, which goes to the highest ranked chemistry student each year. Dickinson is a small liberal arts college, but it has a fabulous undergraduate chemistry program. Some of you may not know about Dickinson, but it has a very interesting and relevant history.

Dickinson was founded in 1783 by Benjamin Rush, who was both a physician and a professor of chemistry (not a bad role model), as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence (even better).

Dr. Rush envisioned a great college at the edge of the frontier (central Pennsylvania was at the edge of the frontier in those days), where both men and women could receive a science-based progressive education. Dickinson remains one of the country’s best small colleges.

Well prepared as a chemist at Dickinson, Amy did spectacularly well in her thesis research on a very challenging and important question in pharmacology as it relates to drug discovery. She tried to understand, with chemical precision, how an important class of membrane receptors called heptahelical receptors transmits signals across membranes.

Amy was able to achieve what I feel is a major breakthrough in the field. She applied a new technology called amber codon suppression to introduce a unique type of amino acid that is normally not found in nature into receptors of interest. The amino acids she chose could be coaxed to react with neighboring molecules when exposed to strong ultraviolet light. She used this method to map the interactions between receptors and therapeutic drugs whose sites of binding and modes of action were not previously known.

Amy’s method is now widely termed “targeted photo-crosslinking.” And it is very cool to chemical biologists.

Amy’s work has received significant attention and praise. She has been invited to give platform talks at Banf, Alberta, Canada; San Diego; and at a receptor pharmacology meeting in Brazil. She has also been featured in a “meet the author” interview for a prominent American Chemical Society journal and, in fact, she just shot another video interview two days ago.

Amy’s published thesis research forms a substantial coherent body of work that I predict will be taught in chemical biology textbooks in the future.

And on a personal level, Amy has been a pleasure to work with. She has been perhaps the most consistently upbeat and team-oriented member of our group over the past five years — a uniquely talented and likeable person. As she moves to Boston with her husband Carlos, we wish Amy all the best in her future scientific career.