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Professor Receives $50,000 Prize for Seminal Research

By Kevin S. Schwartz, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Stephen C. Harrison '63, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, was named winner of the 1996-97 ICN International Prize in Virology on Nov. 3.

The Prize honors long-term contributions of a researcher who has made a seminal contribution to the understanding, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of viral diseases, according to the award's sponsor, ICN Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Harrison received a $50,000 cash prize and a commemorative trophy at a black-tie dinner at the Fogg Art Museum Nov. 7.

Harrison expressed his gratitude to Harvard, the Society of Fellows and Donald L. D. Caspar--former lecturer at Harvard Medical School and research associate in pathology at Children's Hospital Medical Center--at having been given a chance long ago to pursue his innocent search for difficult answers.

"This represents the recognition of the long-term innocence that I treasure in myself and in others, and that Don treasured in me," Harrison said.

Ernie G. Peralta, professor of molecular and cellular biology, said he was proud to share in recognizing Harrison.

"What I think a lot of people don't realize is how much he puts into teaching along with high profile research," he said.

Long-time colleague Don C. Wiley, professor of molecular and cellular biology, joined in celebrating Harrison's success as a scientist and a teacher.

"There's the educator and benefactor side of Steve Harrison in addition to the researcher," Wiley said.

Harrison has conducted ground breaking research in crystallography--the study of three-dimensional structures--according to Vito A. Turso, a spokesperson for ICN.

According to a press release from ICN, Harrison was the first scientist to determine the three-dimensional structure of a virus. He ushered in an era where the details of virus-cell interactions can be studied at the atomic level. He also analyzed the receptor for HIV and proposed rules of protein-protein interactions.

Harrison's work was particularly significant in developing new methodology to extend the technique of X-ray crystallography--the diffraction of X-rays from crystals of a substance--to larger structures. He subsequently worked out the full three-dimensional atomic structure of simple virus particles.

Harrison said he was particularly pleased because the award represents a long history of work he has conducted at Harvard, as a graduate student and faculty member.

"I see it as an award not just to me, but to all of the people and institutions that have allowed me to carry it out," he said.

Harrison also said the award reflects the far-reaching implications of his work.

"I'm pleased that it's an award in virology, and therefore it indicates that structural biology has actually made a real impact on virology," he said.

Tom Ellenberger, a former post-doctoral fellow in Harrison's lab and current assistant professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, pointed to the mentor side of Harrison.

"The thing I admire most in Steve Harrison is his quality as a mentor in encouraging young scientists while setting a high standard of integrity in science for all to emulate," he said.

Harrison said one of the next steps in his research is to try to use the structural information already known to understand the mechanism of how one broad class of viruses enters the cell.

Harrison was chosen for this award by a selection committee composed of noted doctors and scientists in the field of virology from around the world.

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