March 19, 1994p
Media Contact: Joann Rodgers
Phone: (410) 955-8659

A Johns Hopkins researcher who studies how human genes are turned on and off has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Hopkins.

Cynthia Wolberger, Ph.D., assistant professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry, is one of 44 scientists chosen from among 285 nominations during a national competition. As an HHMI investigator, she will receive support for herself and staff members, as well as funding for equipment to continue her studies of gene regulation.

Wolberger's work focuses on how certain proteins in yeast bind to each other to form a larger protein complex that, in turn, latches onto specific areas of a chromosome that control the activity of a gene. These proteins are very similar to certain gene regulating proteins in humans, and provide a convenient model for studying this activity, which occurs in plants and animals.

The Hopkins researcher uses a technique called X-ray crystallography to produce three-dimensional pictures of the structure of the protein complex. X-rays bounced off crystallized molecules form patterns that disclose their shape.

"The results of my work should help explain, at the most fundamental level why certain human diseases occur," Wolberger says.

"Many inherited diseases, as well as cancer, are the result of gene regulation gone awry," she says. "Knowing how these regulatory proteins work will also help other researchers find better treatments."

Wolberger joins 10 other HHMI investigators at Hopkins, a group that includes Nobel Prizewinner Daniel Nathans, M.D. Hopkins was one of the original such institutes established in the late 1950's.

HHMI is the largest private philanthropy in the United States, supporting more than 200 scientists in 63 sites across the country. Now headquartered in Chevy Chase, MD, it was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist for whom it is named.

Verne R. Mason, M.D., a graduate of the Hopkins School of Medicine who also completed his residency at Hopkins, was at one time personal physician to Hughes, and helped the billionaire to establish the institute. The HHIM at Hopkins was established in 1957, a year after the first Hughes investigator began work at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

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