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Artificial intelligence innovator John Jumper to deliver Aug. 30 Apex Lecture

Aug. 16, 2023, 3:05 PM

John Jumper

by Bill Snyder

John Jumper, who led the development of AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can rapidly and accurately predict the three-dimensional structure of proteins, will give the next Apex Lecture on Wednesday, Aug. 30.

Open to the Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center community, the lecture will begin at 4 p.m. in 208 Light Hall.

Structural biology is integral to understanding disease and developing new drugs, said Chuck Sanders, PhD, the Aileen M. Lange and Annie Mary Lyle Professor of Cardiovascular Research and vice dean of Basic Sciences in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“When things go right, they go right because your proteins are working correctly,” Sanders said. “When things go wrong, it is usually because something is wrong with one or more of your proteins. This is why 99% of all drugs target proteins.”

Current methods for determining how proteins function, interact and bind to molecules for drug discovery are expensive and time-consuming.

AlphaFold, the computational tool Jumper’s team developed, “represents a revolutionary advance in structural biology, one that has brought the holy grail of predictive protein folding into the toolkit of biochemistry and molecular biology,” said John Kuriyan, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Dean of Basic Sciences.

“It is part of the AI tsunami that is reshaping society in unparalleled ways, from knowledge dissemination to the practice of medicine,” added Hassane Mchaourab, PhD, the Louise B. McGavock Chair, professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, and director of the Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Protein Dynamics.

Jumper earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Vanderbilt University in 2007, a master’s degree in theoretical condensed matter physics from the University of Cambridge, and his PhD in theoretical chemistry from the University of Chicago. He joined DeepMind in 2018.

For their innovative work on AlphaFold and its impact on biomedical research, Jumper and DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis, PhD, were awarded a 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

The Apex Lectures were established earlier this year by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences to recognize scientists at the pinnacle of their fields who have contributed to “inflection points” in biomedical discovery with the potential to impact human health.

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