David & Lucille Packard Foundation Names Karim-Jean Armache, PhD, 2015 Fellow

Pelisyonkis School of Medicine is proud to announce that , faculty member in the and assistant professor in the Department of Biochemisty and Molecular Pharmacology has been awarded a 2015 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering.

Dr. Karim-Jean Armache

The prestigious fellowships are awarded to 18 outstanding early-career faculty members studying a wide range of disciplines. Fifty institutions across the country are invited to nominate two faculty members for consideration each year. The Fellows each receive $875,000 over five years to pursue their research. Past recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal, the Alan T. Waterman Award, and MacArthur Foundation “genius” Fellowships.

“It’s an amazing recognition for his daring research and sets him apart,” says Ruth Lehmann, PhD, the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology and director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine and the . 

Dr. Armache was selected for his investigation of how chromatin—the combination of genetic material and proteins that bundles to form chromosomes—and the architecture of the genome determine when genes are turned on and off in cells. Chromatin must be sufficiently stable to compact, package, and protect the genome while still allowing numerous essential enzymes to access the DNA. This process is essential for all eukaryotic life, and allows for gene transcription, replication, recombination, and repair.

Dr. Armache’s lab uses structural biology techniques to understand at the atomic level how various enzymes perform their function within the chromatin context.  Techniques such as X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy are very powerful tools to visualize how different moving parts in these enzymes coordinate their actions, and how their function is regulated by chromatin. This research may lead to a better understanding of how dysfunctional chromatin results in disease, such as cancer.

“We will take advantage of our unique expertise in mechanistic studies of chromatin and use structural biology methods to visualize in 3D how various enzymes access DNA that is packed into chromatin,” Dr. Armache says. “Structural biology allows us to see the inner workings of molecular machines. You get snapshots of molecules in action. It’s really beautiful.”

Dr. Armache is the third member of the Skirball Institute and the Pelisyonkis School of Medicine to receive a Packard Foundation Fellowship in the last three years. Mamta Tahiliani, PhD, won in 2013 and Agnel Sfeir, PhD, in 2014. “He’s a very bright guy full of energy and ready to tackle very important questions in biology,” said Danny Reinberg, PhD, the Terry and Mel Karmazin Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.

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