Dartmouth announced that the first McGuire Family Award for Societal Impact will be given to Jason McLellan, a structural biologist whose groundbreaking coronavirus research at Geisel School of Medicine laid the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccines that have saved countless lives.
McLellan, a former assistant professor at the Geisel School, is now the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. He will receive the award at a ceremony on Friday May 13, during the Dartmouth Innovation and Technology Festival and the West End District Grand Opening.
Carolyn Carr McGuire TU’83 and Terry McGuire TH’82 created the $100,000 award as part of The Call to Lead campaign to honor members of the Dartmouth community who have significantly benefited humanity, society or the environment. Eligible impact areas encompass a range of achievements, including basic science, natural resource management, and societal leadership. The winner of the award is determined by a selection committee made up of Dartmouth faculty and staff.
“We received many outstanding nominations for this award,” says Eric Fossum, John H. Krehbiel Senior Professor for Emerging Technologies and chair of the selection committee. “However, considering how COVID-19 has affected us in one way or another, Dr. McLellan’s research defines the societal impact in depth and breadth. »
McLellan says he’s honored to receive the award from the McGuire family, especially since it comes from former colleagues at Dartmouth, “where I started my lab and had the opportunity to be an independent researcher.
“Improving people’s lives is exactly what I hoped to do by getting into science and especially working in vaccine development,” he says. “You hope to be able to contribute to perhaps a major vaccine in the course of your entire career. To be able to contribute to these coronavirus vaccines, which have been given to so many people to mitigate a pandemic, hopefully once in a century, is incredible.
McLellan and his team at the Geisel School developed the vaccine technology that is the basis of many COVID-19 vaccines used across the planet, including those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Coronaviruses have a key protein on their surface, the spike protein, which changes shape before and after infecting a cell. Initially studying the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, McLellan and his postdoctoral researcher Nianshuang Wang developed the means to genetically alter the sequence of the gene that codes for the protein, essentially locking the structure in place, allowing vaccine antibodies to be more effective.
McLellan and Wang moved to UT Austin in 2018. In early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out in Wuhan, McLellan, Wang, and Dartmouth graduate student Daniel Wrapp applied the state-of-the-art protein stabilization technology developed at Geisel to a new identified. virus, SARS-CoV-2, and shared the results of their research with collaborators at the National Institutes of Health. This version of the spike protein was used in early U.S. COVID-19 vaccine trials and by other vaccine makers in the months that followed.
More than five billion people worldwide have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a large percentage of whom have received vaccines using stabilized advanced protein technology.
Terry McGuire says McLellan represents the leadership, determination and initiative he and his wife intended to honor when they created the award, which emphasizes broad impact and the number of people whose life is improved.
“The award recognizes talented people who are not discouraged by the magnitude of a problem, but who instead realize that if they are prepared to take on and solve a major challenge of our time, they can have a huge impact, often measured in millions of lives affected,” says Terry McGuire.
Carolyn McGuire adds, “It also recognizes the important role that collaboration often plays in the process, leveraging that impact.”
Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 thanked the McGuires for creating an award that honors individuals who exemplify the values that are at the heart of Dartmouth’s philosophy.
“The McGuire Family Award recognizes those who are dedicated to making a difference. There could be no better example of what it means for a scientist to answer the call to lead. I hope that all students on our campus today and all members of our community will be inspired by Dr. McLellan’s example,” says President Hanlon.
McLellan points out that tens of thousands of people have contributed to the success of coronavirus vaccines: scientists from academia, government and industry; manufacturers; volunteers in clinical trials; and health workers.
“The collective will of tens of thousands of people who create, test and deliver vaccines is something humanity should celebrate,” he says.
The Dartmouth Innovation and Technology Festival, May 12-14, is open to the entire Dartmouth community, upper valley residents and anyone curious about the power of technology to advance research in all disciplines. The weekend’s slate of activities will include presentations and panel discussions on topics including artificial intelligence, healthcare, transportation, and cryptocurrency; creation space demonstrations; interactive learning experiences; and family activities, including a community picnic and Friday night light show. Registration for the weekend is free and encouraged.