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Plenary Speakers

Saturday, November 16, 2013

NIGMS Director

Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D.

Biographical Sketch

Photo of Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D. Credit: Bill Branson, NIH
Jon R. Lorsch
Credit: Bill Branson, NIH

Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D., was selected to be the new director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in March 2013. He expects to start in this position in the summer.

As NIGMS director, Lorsch will oversee a $2.4 billion budget, which primarily funds basic research in the areas of cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, biomedical technology, bioinformatics and computational biology. NIGMS supports more than 4,600 research grants—about 11 percent of those funded by NIH as a whole—as well as a substantial amount of research training and programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce.

Lorsch will come to NIGMS from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he has been a professor in the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry. He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1999 and became a full professor in 2009.

A leader in RNA biology, Lorsch studies the initiation of translation, a major step in controlling how genes are expressed. When this process goes awry, viral infection, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer can result. To dissect the mechanics of translation initiation, Lorsch and collaborators developed a yeast-based system and a wide variety of biochemical and biophysical methods. The work also has led to efforts to control translation initiation through chemical reagents, such as drugs.

NIGMS has provided funding to Lorsch since 2000. He has also received grants from NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and National Institute of Mental Health, as well as from other funding organizations.

Lorsch is as passionate about education as he is about research. During his tenure at Johns Hopkins, he helped reform the curricula for graduate and medical education, spearheaded the development of the Center for Innovation in Graduate Biomedical Education, and launched a program offering summer research experiences to local high school students, many from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. In addition, he advised dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Lorsch received a B.A. in chemistry from Swarthmore College in 1990 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1995, where he worked in the laboratory of Jack Szostak, Ph.D. He conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University in the laboratory of Daniel Herschlag, Ph.D.

Lorsch is the author of more than 60 peer-reviewed research articles, book chapters and other papers. He has also been the editor of three volumes of Methods in Enzymology and a reviewer for numerous scientific journals. He has one patent and one patent application related to his translation research. His honors include six teaching awards from Johns Hopkins.

Lorsch’s other activities include membership on the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s mentoring committee, the RNA Society’s board of directors and NIH review committees.*

*Text and photo reprinted with permission from the NIH NIGMS.

Carole Cramer, Ph.D.

Dr. Carole L. Cramer is internationally recognized as a leader and pioneer in plant transgenics for biopharmaceutical production.  She exemplifies cross-disciplinary research approaches leading to a remarkable career in translational research and biotechnology start-ups.  In 2012, she was awarded the prestigious Tibbetts Award by the Small Business Administration in a ceremony at the White House.  The Tibbetts Award, which is presented to small businesses and individuals that have received funding from SBIR and STTR programs, highlighted “20 years of successful SBIR research, …and pioneering R & D leading to the introduction of bioengineered plants for manufacturing human therapeutic proteins.  Their core innovation demonstrated that the normal gene (glucocerebrosidase) for a human enzyme responsible for Gaucher’s disease could be transformed into plants and expressed to produce a bioactive human enzyme”.  Dr. Cramer is an original inventor of the first FDA-approved, human enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) produced in a plant model, and in May of 2012 the drug received full FDA approval and is currently being produced and marketed for use in humans by Protalix Biotherapeutics, Inc. and Pfizer, Inc.  Her current research represents the next generation of innovations in human replacement therapeutics – “hi-speed” plant expression technologies for plant-based bioproduction of complex proteins and integrated protein delivery systems that enhance therapeutic efficacy.

 Dr. Cramer is currently a professor in the Department of Biology at Arkansas State University and co-founder/CSO of the biotech start-up, BioStrategies LC.  She was previously on the faculty of Virginia Tech and was recruited to Arkansas to serve as founding executive director (2004 – 2010) of ASU’s Arkansas Biosciences Institute, a state-of-the-art research institute focused at the interface of agriculture and medicine.  She obtained her BA in Biological Science at UC, Berkeley, her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at UC, Irvine, and her postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute.