Yan Nieng: The Shining Star of Biophysics

October 9, 2015
Editor: Amanda Wu
Yan Nieng: The Shining Star of Biophysics
Yan Nieng, a young professor from Beijing-based Tsinghua University [tsinghua.edu.cn]

Yan Nieng, a female professor from Beijing-based Tsinghua University, won the 2015 Raymond & Beverly Sackler International Prize in Biophysics on October 7 for seminal contributions to structural biology of crucial membrane proteins, including the landmark human glucose transporter GLUT1.

Yan shared the award with Professor Stephan Grill from Dresden University of Technology in Germany, who has also made outstanding contributions to the physics of intracellular acto-myosin networks.

The award ceremony will be held at Tel Aviv University in Israel on December 15. Established by Dr. Raymond and Mrs. Beverly Sackler, both considered visionary patrons of the sciences at Tel Aviv University, the Sackler Prize is intended to promote originality and excellence in research in the fields of biophysics, chemistry and physics.

Academic Achievements

Born in 1977, Yan began her undergraduate studies in biology at Tsinghua University in 1996. She started studying molecular biology at Princeton University, a private Ivy League research university in the United States, in 2000.

In 2005, Yan's research achievement on the cell apoptosis mechanism of nematodes and fruit flies won the then 28-year-old the Young Scientist Award (Regional Winner–North America), established and presented by GE Healthcare and Science magazine. The annual award goes to the most outstanding dissertations on life science and only five candidates across the world are selected for it.

Since she returned to China in October 2007, Yan has been focusing on solving the structures and functions of membrane proteins, one of the most challenging fields in structural biology. She has made a series of outstanding achievements within the short eight years since her return.

In 2014, Yan's research team, for the first time in the world, worked out the crystal structure of glucose transporter GLUT1, whose uptake can help cut the "nutrition chain" of cancer cells and possibly "starve" these cells to death, as well as cure diabetes. The results of the research have been published in Nature, a prominent British scientific journal.

In 2015, Yan's team worked out the ultra-high resolution structure of glucose transporter GLUT3, thus unfolding the molecular basis of glucose transporters.

Yan has also contributed to structural biology by resolving the crystal structure of voltage-gated sodium channels.

Most recently, she has used the most modern electron microscopy methods to determine a high resolution structure for the ryanodine receptor RyR1, the largest calcium channel.

Worldwide Recognition

Yan's outstanding achievements have gained recognition from both domestic and foreign academic circles. In 2012, she was selected for the First International Young Scientist Award, organized by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

That same year, she became a winner of the National Science Fund for Outstanding Young Scholars and won the Ninth China Young Female Scientists Award.

In 2015, she was selected for the Changjiang (Yangtze River) Scholar award, the highest academic award issued to an individual in higher education by the Ministry of Education.

For her contributions to the study of proteins, Yan was awarded with the 2015 Protein Science Young Investigator Award by the Protein Society, a non-profit scholarly society with a mission to advance state-of-the-art science through international forums.

(Source: tsinghua.edu.cn/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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