2016 Breakthrough Star Maksymilian Chruszcz

As a structural biologist, Maksymilian Chruszcz is uniquely positioned to collaborate widely across the academy, and he has made the most of that potential at the University of South Carolina. Since his arrival in 2012, the associate professor in chemistry and biochemistry has used his expertise in protein crystallography to develop collaborations with colleagues in chemistry and biochemistry, medicine, public health, biology and chemical engineering.

The breadth of his research connections is partly a consequence of the success in allergy research Chruszcz had already attained before coming to Columbia. His primary focus is protein allergens that organisms shed into the environment. When allergens are encountered by humans, they can elicit immune responses that result in a range of medical difficulties, from mild ones, such as hayfever, to life-threatening emergencies, such as anaphylactic shock from some food and insect venom allergies.

Chruszcz has identified protein allergens responsible for peanut, nut, dust mite and hayfever allergies and determined their three-dimensional structures. He uses insight derived from those crystal structures to design molecules that might be used to develop new drugs for therapy, collaborating with synthetic chemists who prepare compounds for testing. His unique combination of expertise in structural biology and allergy research have earned Chruszcz a seat on the editorial board of the Journal of Contemporary Immunology, where he has served since 2013.

His interdisciplinary work is by no means limited to allergies and the sometimes fatal immune responses they can elicit. Chruszcz is working with Carolina faculty on research involving agricultural pests as well as new approaches to developing antimicrobial compounds, contributing new structural biology approaches to solving problems.

Chruszcz is also helping develop the next generation of structural biologists, in South Carolina and beyond. In his laboratory in Columbia, 17 undergraduate students took part in research projects in his first three years, and a former postdoctoral associate has set up shop as a new faculty member at Davidson College. He travels globally to teach students about X-ray diffraction, having offered instruction in workshops at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stanford University, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

“He is an outstanding new researcher,” says department chair Ken Shimizu. “He has put USC on the world map of structural biology.”

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