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City Shaper: Jill Szczesek

Jill Szczesek is the COO of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This week's City Shaper takes us inside the first new building that went up on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus 16 years ago when it was just getting started. The research team Jill Szczesek is part of there is making important scientific discoveries.

Szczesek is the chief operating officer for Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI). She grew up in Buffalo and worked in higher education, got her PhD, and has been at HWI for a decade.

HWI was founded in 1956 through the philanthropy of its primary benefactor Helen Woodward Rivas. You can read more about her and Nobel laureate Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, for which the institute is named, here.

HWI is a Buffalo-based research institute where scientists focus on making discoveries in structural biology.

"So, they look at the machines in our cells that basically keep things functioning, and what they ultimately try to do is determine what those machines look like," Szczesek said. "It's helpful for them to understand what they look like because when they are curious as to things are functioning properly or things are causing a disease state, the shape of those machines tell them how they're functioning."

That helps researchers figure out how to come up with new drugs to potentially treat all sorts of diseases.

"What's a typical day like for you here?" Asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.

"It's very unpredictable, and we do a substantial number of different things, which is one of the reasons that the environment is so stimulating," Szczesek said. "I could be meeting with our researcher teams to try and find some resources that they need one minute, and then addressing a building issue the next moment."

The latest big project Szczesek is working on involves a cryo-electron microscope (Cryo-EM), which she says will speed up the process to discover new drugs.

"When you say to somebody that it would have taken a decade from start to finish, they can actually be investigating something that they're researching and maybe have results in 18 months. It's game-changing," she said.

The hope is that the microscope will attract research talent and pharmaceutical companies to Western New York. It's also part of a pilot program for energy storage with lithium storage devices made locally.

And, while we celebrate women who are City Shapers, Szczesek points out close to half of HWI's researchers are women and 75 percent of their executives are too.

“Structural biology has always been very receptive to women in the STEM disciplines, which is actually also something I think we're very proud of, and we actually have a good number of women leading research teams here right now," she says.

HWI will start with one microscope and hopes to add more.

If you know a City Shaper, send Kelly an email to nominate them.

Learn more about City Shaper Janna Willoughby-Lohr:

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Each week, we're featuring some of the women who are part of Western New York's resurgence. This week's City Shaper turned her passion for making paper into a career. Janna Willoughby-Lohr owns Papercraft Miracles and grew up in Buffalo. She lives above her business in Black Rock.

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