Stockton Kimball Awardee is Expert on Trypanosoma

Noreen Williams, PhD

Noreen Williams, PhD

Published July 3, 2018

Noreen Williams, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology, has received the 2018 Stockton Kimball Award for outstanding scientific achievement and service.

In presenting the award, Suzanne G. Laychock, PhD, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and facilities, noted Williams was selected “for her long history of important contributions to her field as well as national and international recognition and extensive service to the university, the school, her department and to her many students.”

Her career-long interest is in Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease in South and Central America. Williams seeks to discover and exploit critical events that occur in the parasite life cycle that may be used to prevent growth or transmission of the parasite.

‘Excellence in its Broadest Sense’

“Her career is viewed as an example of excellence in its broadest sense,” Laychock said.

After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine, Williams completed her doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from New York University.

She was a postdoctoral fellow in biological chemistry from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and in biological sciences at Johns Hopkins and McCollum-Pratt Institute.

A professor of microbiology and immunology, Williams was appointed in 1992 and was promoted to professor in 2002. She has been a vice chair of the department since 2013.

In 2015, she received the UB Exceptional Scholar Sustained Achievement Award.

Lab Discovered Pair of RNA Binding Proteins

“Dr. Williams is well respected in her field for her work on parasitic Trypanosoma brucei,” Laychock noted. “She has contributed groundbreaking research to her field and published numerous papers and chapters on the work.”

Among her many research highlights:

  • Williams’ laboratory discovered a pair of trypanosome-specific RNA binding proteins — P34 and P37 — that are part of a unique preribosomal complex that is essential for ribosomal biogenesis and survival of trypanosomes. This may suggest that the interaction of these proteins with other components of the ribosomal assembly pathway can be developed as targets for chemotherapy.
  • Williams and her team are developing a high-throughput screen for small molecules that disrupt the complex in trypanosomes and do not harm the human host.
  • She is examining the structure of the ribosome and intermediates in the pathway of assembly. These experiments will provide important information about the unique features of the structure and function of the trypanosome ribosome and further her discovery of potential drug targets.
  • Williams has a long-standing collaboration with Beatriz Garat, PhD, of the Universidad de la Républica in Uruguay, examining both DNA and RNA binding proteins which regulate gene expression in Trypanosoma cruzi.

Research Funded by NIH

Williams’ research has been continuously funded since 1987 and has resulted in an extensive list of scholarly publications. This includes more than 40 articles, many in high-impact journals.

She is currently principal investigator on an NIH grant for development of an assay to identify drugs to target the Trypanosoma brucei. The four-year, $1.15 million grant, “Identifying Critical Interactions in the Unique Trypanosoma Brucei 5S Ribonucleoprotein Complex and Their Role in Ribosome Biogenesis,” is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

She is also principal investigator on a National Institutes of Health grant, “Targeting the Trypanosomal Preribosomal Complex,” that is funded through 2019.

Williams has served on a number of NIH study sections, including service as chair for three of them.

She has given numerous presentations at the prestigious International Woods Hole Molecular Parasitology Meeting and served as an organizer of the meeting from 2010-2012.

Mentorship, Diversity Play Key Roles in Work

She has been heavily involved in medical school graduate program development school wide (steering committee, curriculum committee) and departmentally (graduate director, curriculum development), as well as through faculty development mentoring at a departmental level and on the school level with the promotion and tenure committees.

She has always felt that mentoring was central to her role at the university and believes in encouraging scientific participation and growth at all levels.

A strength of Williams’ laboratory is that it has always been comprised of a diverse and international group of researchers. In part, that is because they work on neglected diseases endemic to underdeveloped areas of the world.

Williams has served as an adviser for the NIH Infectious Disease Physician Scientist Program and was a member of the NIH Biomedical Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Award Honors Former Medical School Dean

The honor for Williams came June 6 during the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ Faculty and Staff Recognition Awards celebration.

She will deliver the Stockton Kimball Lecture in 2019.

The award and lecture recognize an outstanding scholar and researcher who has also contributed significantly to the school. It is named in memory of Stockton Kimball, MD ’29, dean of the medical school from 1946 to 1958.