By Ryan Ball

When the ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) Foundation Inc. was established in 1958 to provide financial awards to U.S. graduate and undergraduate students for innovative pursuits in science, engineering and medical research, the Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik and the United States feared it might fall behind on the technology front.

Although the Cold War space race has long since cooled, the foundation continues to foster emerging talent — including Keck School of Medicine of USC postdoctoral research fellow Rachel Service, PhD, the first recipient of a $10,000 postdoctoral fellowship awarded by ARCS and The John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Service is exploring multiple areas of structural biology, and she believes that understanding the structure of and functional relationship between proteins is key to developing new therapies, studying disease processes and advancing clean energy, among other pursuits.

“It’s a really big field, one in which you have to be very clever to solve these problems,” Service said.

Service’s mentor, Ansgar Siemer, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute within the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said he admires her independence and leadership skills in the lab, where she mentors undergraduates and graduate students.

“The proteins we work on are difficult to make and complicated structures to push in the right form, and I think she’s done a great job optimizing the system,” Siemer remarked.

For Service, a major draw to working in Siemer’s lab was the opportunity to be trained on the new nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. The cutting-edge technology allows the team to decipher the atomic resolution structure of amyloid fibers, which are linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Cheryl M. Craft, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and cell & neurobiology at the Keck School, is co-vice president of university relations for the ARCS Inc. Los Angeles Founder Chapter, and she currently sits on the executive and international scientific advisory boards of The John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Foundation. She said Service was chosen for the inaugural fellowship because of her intelligence, academic achievements and potential to advance research in Alzheimer’s.

“It’s important for us to look at not only the clinical translational research, but also the basic research that goes into a project,” said Craft. “Looking at her overall background and what she wants to accomplish here in Ansgar’s lab, I think it’s essential that she has that support.”

The fellowship award was presented in honor of Maggie McKnight Russell, a long-time supporter of numerous Los Angeles nonprofit organizations.

Russell is regarded as the heart and soul of the ARCS, Inc. Los Angeles Founder Chapter.

The ARCS Foundation Inc. has supported more than 200 Keck School of Medicine students and 10 USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center fellows.

The John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Foundation serves as a venture catalyst to provide critical seed money for novel and promising basic and translational Alzheimer’s research across California.