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Professor Bonnie Wallace wins prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Award

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Prizes and Awards are awarded in recognition of originality and impact of research, or for each winner’s contribution to the chemical sciences industry or education.

Professor Bonnie Wallace

Professor Bonnie Wallace, Professor of Molecular Biophysics, has been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Khorana Prize. Professor Wallace won the award for the pioneering development of biophysical methods and bioinformatics tools to enable the characterisation of ion channel-drug molecule complexes.

After receiving the award, Professor Wallace said: “I am very pleased to be awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) 2020 Khorana Prize. Having been a member of the RSC for nearly 30 years, I am greatly honoured to be awarded this prize for work on the structure and function of membrane proteins, and the development of tools for their analysis. The fact that this prize is named in honour of Professor Gobind Khorana makes it especially nice as I had the opportunity to interact with him and his group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when I was a postdoc at Harvard Medical School many years ago. 

“I am also pleased that the prize reflects well on the work done by my current and former students, postdocs, collaborators and colleagues.”

Professor Wallace’s work has included both experimental and computational studies on membrane proteins, focusing recently on voltage-gated sodium channels, which are responsible for electrical signalling in excitable tissues. Mutations in these channels cause a wide range of neurological and cardiovascular diseases, so knowledge of the relationship between their structures and function provides an important key for developing treatments for such diseases such as epilepsy and chronic pain. 

Professor Wallace’s lab was the first to determine the three-dimensional (crystal) structure of an open, active, full-length sodium channel, and to identify the locations of the three sodium ions within the channel selectivity filter, and the features that define their unique specificity for sodium versus other types of ions. This information is helping guide the development of new pharmaceutical drugs.

Dr Helen Pain, acting chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry said: 

“We live in an era of tremendous global challenges, with the need for science recognised now more so than ever – so it is important to recognise those behind the scenes who are making significant contributions towards improving the world we live in. It is our honour and privilege to do that with these awards, which recognise exceptional scientific achievement. 

“The global chemical sciences community is one that covers many different specialisms, from health and climate change to product development, sustainable transport, and everything in between. In recognising the work of Professor Wallace, we are also recognising the important contribution this incredible network of scientists makes to improving our lives every day.”

Professor Wallace, who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut but has called London home for over thirty years, also receives a £5,000 cash prize and a medal. 

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