February 2013

Member update

F. Peter Guengerich presenting award to Tsuneo Omura
Five decades after the discovery of cytochrome P-450
Tsuneo Omura, professor emeritus at Kyushu University, was honored late last year for his contributions to the field of cytochrome P-450 research at a symposium and ceremony in Fukuoka, Japan, on the 50th anniversary of his seminal work. Omura’s 1962 communication with Ryo Sato in The Journal of Biological Chemistry reported that a pigment in liver microsomes that bound carbon monoxide to give an absorbance maximum at 450 nm was a heme protein. Omura and Sato named the protein a cytochrome, specifically cytochrome P-450 (for pigment 450). That report was followed in 1964 by two more papers, both now considered JBC Classics. Omura was issued a letter of recognition from JBC Editor Martha Fedor and Co-editor Herb Tabor at the Fukuoka event by F. Peter Guengerich of Vanderbilt University, who serves as an associate editor for the JBC and who is widely known and respected for his own work on cytochrome P-450, which he spoke about at the symposium.


Rita Levi-Montalcini
Rita Levi-Montalcini, photo courtesy of  Fabio Campana/European Pressphoto AgencyNeurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini passed away Dec. 30 in Rome at the age of 103. She was best known for her discovery of nerve growth factor, for which she shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Stanley Cohen in 1986. Her research improved our understanding of the way cell growth factors function and of how diseases such as dementia, diabetes and cancer progress. Born 1909 in Turin, Italy, to Jewish parents, Levi-Montalcini faced oppression due to her gender and religion. She was forced to leave the University of Turin in 1938 amid rising anti-Semitism but continued with her research in a home laboratory. She joined Washington University in 1946 and went on to establish a research unit in Rome in 1962. She continued to split her time between Rome and St. Louis until she retired from the university in 1977. After retiring, she stayed active in science, and she continued to contribute to important discoveries, such as identifying the role of mast cells in pathology. She received numerous accolades during her life, including the National Medal of Honor and election into the National Academy of Sciences.
Elwood Jenson
Elwood Jensen, photo courtesy of  Tony Jones/Cincinnati Enquirer via Associated PressElwood Jenson died of pneumonia Dec. 16 in Cincinnati at the age of 92. He is known worldwide for his work with hormone receptors; in particular, he isolated and discovered the importance of estrogen receptors in breast cancer. His work led him to be bestowed with honors such as membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1974 and the Lasker Award in 2004 for outstanding contributions to basic and clinical medical research. Jensen received his bachelor’s degree from Wittenburg College and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. He joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1947 and was an original member of the research team at the Ben May Laboratory for Cancer Research, where he became director in 1969. He left the university in 1990. However, Jensen continued to be engaged actively in research as a visiting scholar and professor at a number of prestigious institutions. Jensen joined the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and continued with his research until last year.

— Compiled by Kyeorda Kemp 

Dawson’s group among first supported by new Parkinson’s biomarker program at NINDS
Ted DawsonThe National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke last month announced a new initiative aimed at accelerating the identification of biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease. So far, the Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program has funded nine research teams. Among them is a group led by member Ted Dawson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Dawson’s team is focusing on the early clinical signs of the movement disorder, including changes in cognition and sleep, to see how they’re connected with potential biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid and blood. “Our goal is to accelerate progress toward a robust set of biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease by supporting researchers who have strong leads or innovative approaches, bringing them together, and making it easier for them to share and analyze data across studies,” Story Landis, director of the NINDS, said of the new program. The initiative also includes an online data-sharing platform where PDBP investigators and all other interested researchers can deposit and access data and request biological samples.
Matrix biology society gives Hudson its highest honor
Billy HudsonBilly Hudson of Vanderbilt University won the 2012 Senior Investigator Award from the American Society for Matrix Biology. Hudson received the award, the organization’s highest honor, late last year at the ASMB’s annual meeting in San Diego. Hudson, who is director of the Center for Matrix Biology at Vanderbilt and founder of the science-outreach Aspirnaut program, was recognized for his contributions to our understanding of type IV collagen, found in the basement membrane that underlies all epithelial cells. Hudson also determined the primary structure of the collagen molecule NC1, which combines in a roped structure three chains of collagen, stabilizing a network that serves as part of the kidney-filtration barrier. More recently, Hudson’s team found a novel chemical bond and the enzyme responsible for the bond reinforcing collagen IV networks in connective tissue.

two science medals 

Three members win national medals
Three members were recognized by President Obama and issued the federal government’s highest honors in their fields: the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Leroy E. Hood, founder and president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, and Lucy Shapiro of Stanford University School of Medicine both won the National Medal of Science. Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. In a statement, Obama said, “I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators. They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great — and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment.”

Leroy E. Hood  Lucy Shapiro  Robert Langer, photo courtesy of Stu Rosner Photography 
Hood Shapiro Langer
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