Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Congratulations Joachim Frank on winning the Nobel Prize!

Congratulations to Joachim Frank for winning the Nobel Prize today! See story published in today's Times Union.

Frank was on the faculty at the University at Albany during his time at Wadsworth Center in Albany before moving to Columbia University in 2001.
Joachim Frank, of Columbia University, is hugged by his wife Carol Saginaw, in their New York City apartment, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

From the Times Union archives, here is a story by NYS Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl on Frank published on page A1 on March 12, 2001.

State scientist finds key to deadly hepatitis C
Times Union 3/12/2001 Page: A1
Byline: PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer

State research scientist Joachim Frank has provided the first glimpse into a kind of fatal hijacking that occurs at the molecular level of the hepatitis C virus. Frank's discovery unlocks a mystery of chronic liver disease, which results in the deaths of 10,000 Americans annually. His findings were published Friday in the prestigious journal Science.

``On the incremental scale of basic research, this is a pretty big step,'' said Paul Masters, chief of virology for the state Health Department's Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research in Albany, where Frank's research team is based.

Masters likened Frank's breakthrough to seeing the moon -- after blithely gazing at its glow in the heavens for decades -- suddenly with the clarity and detail offered by a high-powered telescope.

``This discovery brings us closer than we've ever been to understanding how this very insidious virus initiates infection and it gives us a target for coming up with anti-viral therapies,'' Masters said.
Existing drugs often fail in treating hepatitis C virus, which leads in the majority of cases to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis or cancer in the organ that filters poisons from the bloodstream.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that hepatitis C virus infection costs $600 million annually in the United States in health care and lost wages.

``Dr. Frank's research epitomizes the quality of scientific research conducted in New York state and illustrates how cutting-edge basic science can address a problem of pressing public health importance,'' said Dr. Antonia C. Novello, the state health commissioner.

Using a state-of-the-art $1 million cryo-electron microscope, a drop of clear liquid with cells from a rabbit and the genetic material frozen at 321 below zero Fahrenheit, Frank and his team have refined a pioneering process akin to creating a genome mosaic.

The researchers generated thousands of images of cells from every conceivable angle. They next visually reconstructed the molecules on a high-powered computer with cutting-edge software Frank developed named SPIDER, magnified the molecules a million fold and discovered an astonishing sequence.

With a spinning, moving 3-D computer model visualization, Frank -- who writes short stories and novels in his spare time and possesses the soul of a poet -- has demonstrated how good health can be gone in 60 seconds.

``The movie lasts about a minute and shows how the hepatitis C virus essentially hijacks very complex molecular machinery for its own purposes and disables the mechanisms that were there,'' Frank said.
To the casual observer, the scientific breakthrough looks something like an eel-like wrapping itself around and strangling a writhing Pokemon figure.

Or, to use Masters' analogy, the hepatitis C virus ``shows up without a ticket, doesn't have to wait in line and gets in ahead of everybody else.''

Frank's research is funded by a seven-year, multimillion-dollar ``genius'' grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and another $1.25 million from the National Institutes of Health.

Frank has developed an international reputation for work that has been called ``a scientific tour de force.'' His research focuses on the ribosome and how it works at the molecular level. Ribosomes are protein-building factories. There are millions of these hard-working, blue-collar ribosomes in a typical human cell.

Frank's Science article describes this heretofore unobserved molecular commandeering action on a specific ribosome sub-unit called the 40S sub-unit.

In typically modest fashion, Frank put his name last among the Science paper's authors, preceded by his Wadsworth team members Christian Spahn, Robert Grassucci and Pawel Penczek. He also credits first his Yale University co-investigators, Jeffrey S. Kieft, Kaihong Zhou and Jennifer Doudna.

Frank, 60, a state researcher since 1975, is a German emigre who became an American citizen in 1997. His thin, angular face is topped with flaxen, silvery hair and he speaks in a soft, meandering way heavily salted with a German accent.

He lives in Albany, is active on civic issues and wakes before dawn to garden. A voracious reader, Frank is a former president of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild who meets regularly with local writers to discuss poetry and fiction, while weathering their criticism of his own short stories and novels.

``Joachim is modest, works very hard and doesn't blow his own horn much,'' Masters said. ``This work is technically mind-boggling and it takes a particular kind of genius.''

First published in the Albany Times Union March 12, 2001