March 7, 2005

WORCESTER Mass. — Dianne Schwarz, a fourth-year student at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Worcester, has been selected to receive the 2005 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award sponsored by the Basic Sciences Division of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The award recognizes the best graduate students in the life sciences in the nation and world on the basis of the quality, originality and significance of their work; only 15 students were selected for the award this year.

Schwarz, who works in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology at UMass, focuses her research on RNAi—a natural “gene silencing” mechanism—particularly its pathway, or the sequence of reactions by which one biological material is converted to another. She studies the intermediates and complexes in the pathway in flies and humans, and how to use this pathway to target genes associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). She then uses what she has learned about the pathway to improve the use of RNAi in knocking out mutant genes.

“Dianne is an outstanding student who, when presented with a very exciting project on the mechanism of action of RNAi, has made the absolute most of the opportunity,” said C. Robert Matthews, PhD, the Arthur F. and Helen P. Koskinas Professor and Chair of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology. “I expect that her scientific accomplishments at UMMS and beyond will make all of us in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology very proud.  The Weintraub Award is a fitting tribute to her accomplishments and is likely to be followed by other awards that recognize her special talents.”

A native of Ontario, New York, Schwarz attended the State University of New York Albany, expecting to eventually pursue a medical degree. In her sophomore year, however, she participated in an independent laboratory project that attracted the attention of one of her biochemistry professors, who invited Schwarz to work in her laboratory. It was there, investigating transposable elements of primate evolution on the molecular level, that Schwarz realized her knack for science.

“I simply loved working in the lab and decided to pursue a graduate degree,” said Schwarz, who graduated from SUNY Albany in 1999. She enrolled in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2001 and has worked with Associate Professors of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Phillip D. Zamore, PhD, on RNAi and Zuoshang Xu, MD, PhD, on ALS.

Schwarz is only the second UMass student to receive the Weintraub Award. Alla Grishok, PhD, received the award in 2002, after graduating from the GSBS in 2001.

The Weintraub award, established in 2000, honors the late Harold “Hal” M. Weintraub, PhD, a founding member of Fred Hutchinson’s Basic Sciences Division, who died of brain cancer in 1995 at age 49. Weintraub was an international leader in the field ofmolecular biology; among his many contributions, he identified genes responsible for instructing cells to differentiate, or develop, into specific tissues such as muscle or bone. The award honors Dr. Weintraub and his enthusiastic support of colleagues, students and young scientists.

Schwarz, who lives in Westborough, will participate with other award recipients in a scientific symposium in May at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.


The University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the fastest growing medical schools in the country, attracting more than $167 million in research funding annually.  The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which opened in 1979, is a faculty-initiated PhD program that trains scientists in a specialty area with a broad background in the basic medical sciences, in preparation for conducting research with direct relevance to human disease. For more information, go to www.umassmed.edu/gsbs

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is an internationally recognized, independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. For more information, go to www.fhcrc.org

Contact: Alison Duffy,508.856.2000,alison.duffy@umassmed.edu