Ryan Emenecker, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has won the 2022 Regeneron Prize for Creative Innovation. The $50,000 prize recognizes excellence and creativity in young biomedical scientists who have potential to make scientific breakthroughs.
Emenecker studies intrinsically disordered proteins — shapeshifting proteins with no defined structure — in the laboratory of Alex Holehouse, PhD, an assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular biophysics. Mutations in intrinsically disordered proteins have been linked to aging, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and many other conditions.
Applicants to the Regeneron prize submit a “dream project” proposal. For his dream project, Emenecker designed a method to investigate how disordered proteins that interact with other proteins recognize their correct partners out of the millions of proteins in each cell, and how this recognition process sometimes goes awry in disease. The approach used evolutionary techniques to create a group of disordered proteins that interact with specific partners and then applied machine learning to uncover the underlying principles governing their interactions. The long-term goal is to use these insights to predict how mutations in human genes influence the behavior of disordered proteins, aiding efforts to design better drugs for a range of diseases.