Michael Rape’s fascination with the process by which living things degrade can perhaps be traced to his boyhood in Northern Bavaria, where he carried out chemistry experiments in his lab in the basement. “I was born in an area where we had trouble with pollution,” he explains, “and we had a lot of problems with sulfur dioxide in the air, so I tried to make SO2 in the lab. I gassed some plants and looked how they tried to survive.”
Today, Rape is a leading biochemical researcher helping to unravel the mysteries of the ubiquitin system, which “tags” damaged or bad proteins fordestruction, and others for elimination to enable certainprocesses to occur, and thus is vital to the health of all life forms. “Aberrant ubiquitination results in many diseases, including cancer or neurodegeneration,” Rape explains. But the reach of ubiquitination goes beyond cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, with implications for novel drug development.
Rape made his first trip to the States while an undergraduate in biochemistry at the University of Bayreuth, when awarded scholarships to study at the University of Delaware. He returned to Bayreuth for his master’s degree, then attended the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry for PhD studies. He moved to America for his postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, where he met “the most important person for my scientific development,” Dr. Marc Kirschner.
Once at Berkeley, Rape made several key discoveries that shaped the ubiquitin field. He has kept up the pace ever since, diversifying his independent research even as he and his group remain focused on ubiquitin biochemistry. In the not-too-distant future, he hopes to apply his research to the “development of drugs that exploit the rich biology of ubiquitination,” especially aimed at breast cancer.
Awards and Accomplishments
- Curci Foundation Award (2013)
- NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (2007)
- Pew Scholar Award (2007)
- Kimmel Scholar Award (declined, 2007)
- Otto-Hahn Medal of the Max-Planck Society (2002)
- Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry Junior Research Award (2001)
Related Prize Recipients
2018 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise
Creative Promise Prizewinner Polina Anikeeva develops novel engineering solutions that have advanced the field of neural engineering and enabled fine-grained analysis of brain function and animal behavior.
2019 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise
Jeanne T. Paz is awarded the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for uncovering the neural basis of epileptic seizures, and for demonstrating possible methods of predicting and arresting seizures.
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