ASU protein pioneer honored as innovator at governor’s celebration

ASU protein pioneer honored as innovator at governor’s celebration

November 11, 2016

  • Petra Fromme is the director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery and Regents' Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences.

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November 11, 2016

Petra Fromme, an Arizona State University researcher who is cracking the mystery of proteins and how they function, was hailed as Innovator of the Year at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation, Nov. 10, a celebration also honoring Arizona businesses, legislators, teachers and students who are leading the state in science and technology discovery and entrepreneurialism.

Fromme, a Regents’ Professor and director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery at the ASU Biodesign Institute, leads a team of chemists, physicists and biologists who are studying membrane proteins, finding answers to disease and clean energy.

“Only by understanding the structure, function and dynamics of the complete set of the million or so proteins found in our bodies, called the proteome, can we truly make an impact on identifying new drug targets for health care.” In 2012, Fromme’s team’s ability to identify the first novel structure at atomic detail was named as one of the world’s top 10 breakthroughs by Science magazine. In addition, Fromme’s international team has discovered the inner mechanism for proteins connected with vision and pain, potentially paving the way for developing non-addictive painkillers.

An essential tool in Fromme’s research, the world’s brightest X-ray called the X-ray free electron laser, is being re-created at ASU in a new and less expensive form. Working with William Graves, an ASU physicist, the new technology will propel more scientists to make more discoveries more quickly, hence advancing medical treatment and cures, and the race for new sources of clean energy.

Fromme is known for her intrepid approach to solving life’s big questions. Recruited from Berlin, Germany, Fromme sees ASU as a place where her research has “thrived beyond what would have ever been possible at any other university in Germany or the U.S.”

“Each time we work on novel ideas that have never been formulated before, other scientists say it’s impossible until we show it’s possible,” Fromme said.

“Arizona continues to be the best place in the nation to launch a concept, scale a company, and compete with the rest of the world,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. Gaining a reputation as the “Silicon Desert,” Phoenix is outpacing the California Bay area, with the number of tech jobs in Phoenix growing by 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, while the number of tech jobs in the Bay Area grew by 7 percent in the same time period. 

 “Petra Fromme’s research promises to crack nature’s code and replicate fundamental biological processes, such as photosynthesis, for profound societal benefits,” said ASU President Michael Crow.

Fromme is the Paul V. Galvin Professorship in 2012 in the ASU School of Molecular Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Fromme and her team have attracted more than $30 million in grant funding.




Written by: Julie Kurth