Among these milestones, a fluorescent lactosylceramide analogue enabled the Pagano lab to discover a common mechanism of action that underlies sphingolipid storage diseases, namely, that cholesterol accumulation diverts internalized sphingolipids from the Golgi recycling pathway to lysosomes where they accumulate. This allows fluorescent lactosylceramide to be used as a sensitive diagnostic tool to identify patients with defects in sphingolipid metabolism. Dick’s work in this area also led to the identification of several potential therapeutic options for treatment of sphingolipidoses, which have been verified to reverse the trafficking defect in vitro and in animal models of Niemann-Pick disease, type C.
During his career, Dick trained more than 50 students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are current leaders in the field of lipids that he pioneered. He successfully trained scientists largely by example since, in demeanor and practice, Dick was first and foremost a bench scientist. The environment in the Pagano laboratory was one where spirited discussion was encouraged, where everyone’s opinion was considered and each piece of data scrutinized. Discussions occasionally became heated, but this was tempered by Dick’s dry humor and desire to get the story right. Dick appreciated the joy of discovery, including the rigor and creativity that are needed to be an outstanding scientist. He is deeply missed by colleagues, friends and family.
Michael Koval (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor of medicine and cell biology at the Emory University School of Medicine.