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College cocktails lead to science career

If you knew what possessed the young Jim Sacchettini to become a biochemist, you might look upon the "bar scene" more approvingly. But that story's for later.

Instead, ponder what Sacchettini calls "the diseases of the poor" infectious diseases that not long ago were considered wiped from the face of the Earth - tuberculosis and malaria, for instance.

Sacchettini saw these maladies firsthand in the Bronx. He had gone there in 1990 from St. Louis, Mo., after earning his doctorate at Washington University.

"It was like being in a developing country," said Sacchettini, who was a researcher at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. "And we were awakened to the fact that infectious diseases like tuberculosis really had never left."

Einstein is near Rikers Island, a New York City jail which houses some 17,000 inmates at a time, according to the city's Correction Department. In the late 1980s, a drug-resistant form of TB developed among inmates who unwittingly spread it throughout New York as they were released, Sacchettini noted.

At the time, though he had already started working on TB, there was not much research going on for infectious diseases. But the Rikers episode and others caused a boom that focused on the need worldwide for better treatment options for this disease, he said. Sacchettini came to Texas A&M University in 1996 and now is professor of biochemistry and biophysics with Texas AgriLife Research and Wolfe-Welch Chair in Science director.

With this focus on infectious diseases, Sacchettini, and colleague Dr. Thomas Ioerger in the university's computer science department, developed a method which is the basis for all his drug discovery research: make the protein that is principle to the disease, crystalize it and depict it in 3-D form on a computer, then after seeing the protein's vulnerable spot, make inhibitors to block its function.

"It's virtual drug screening," he said. "At the protein'

Contact: Kathleen Phillips
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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