Kelly Nguyen, Group Leader in the LMB’s Structural Studies Division, has been announced as the 2024 recipient of the Colworth Medal, awarded by the Biochemical Society.
The Biochemical Society awards the Colworth Medal to recognise outstanding research by a biochemist within ten years of receiving their PhD. The researcher must have carried out the majority of their work in the UK or Ireland and is invited to present a lecture at a Society event and submit an article to a Society publication. The Colworth Medal has been awarded annually since 1963.
Kelly received a Ph.B (honours) degree in Chemistry from the Australian National University before beginning PhD studies in Kiyoshi Nagai’s group in the LMB’s Structural Studies Division. Her research focused on understanding the spliceosome, a macromolecular machine involved in the maturation of messenger RNAs for protein synthesis. Kelly used electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) to map a large part of the spliceosome, which allowed her to identify how the protein and RNA components interact with each other to construct the molecular machine.
In 2016, Kelly moved to the University of California, Berkeley to begin researching telomerase in the groups of Kathleen Collins and Eva Nogales. She started her own research group at the LMB in 2019 where she researches the mechanism by which telomeres – protective nucleoproteins which cap the ends of chromosomes in eukaryotic cells – are maintained. Her group also investigates the molecular basis by which the enzyme telomerase rebuilds telomeres which are lost during genome replication.
Her group’s research has resulted in the first ever atomic model of human telomerase, revealing a hotspot of premature aging disease mutations and a previously unknown histone dimer as novel telomerase subunits. Further cryo-EM analysis by the group illustrated how the protein shelterin recruits and activates telomerase to extend telomere ends. This research holds significant clinical implications as telomerase is an important drug target against cancers and ageing diseases.
Kelly’s research has previously been recognised by the 2022 Eppendorf Award for Young European Investigators, the 2020 Suffrage Science Award curated by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMB), and the 2017 Early Career Research Award from the Biochemical Society.
Kelly commented, “I am very delighted to receive The Colworth Medal from the Biochemical Society. I would like to share the honour with all the past and present laboratory members, mentors, colleagues and collaborators, who have all made essential contributions every step of this journey. I would also want to highlight the stimulating and supportive environment at MRC LMB that has greatly shaped my scientific approaches. Being recognized in this way is very encouraging for my laboratory and will motivate us to continue tackling challenging problems and making exciting discoveries.”
Previous winners of the Colworth Medal from the Biochemical Society include LMB Group Leaders Sarah Teichman, M. Madan Babu and Tanmay Bharat and LMB alumni Stephen Wallace and Melina Schuh.