March 2013

New award established in memory of Bert and N. Kuggie Vallee

Bert and N. Kuggie Vallee
 
BERT AND N. KUGGIE VALLEE

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is now accepting nominations for a new annual award: the Bert and N. Kuggie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science.

The $10,000 award, which will recognize outstanding accomplishments in basic biomedical research, is supported by the Vallee Foundation, established in 1996 by biochemist Bert Vallee and his wife, Natalie, who was better known as Kuggie.

The late Bert Vallee was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1938. He studied primarily zinc enzymology and was known by many in the scientific community as the father of metallobiochemistry, but his research interests were broad, and the technologies he developed affected many areas of study.

“Vallee and I shared a common passion, our favorite element, zinc. He was one of the fathers of zinc biochemistry, having discovered the second known zinc enzyme,” says Jeremy Berg, president of the ASBMB. “Vallee and his co-workers developed many of the techniques used to this day to characterize zinc proteins. I greatly admired the interdisciplinary approach he took, well before it was fashionable.”

Vallee’s work garnered him many awards, including the ASBMB’s William C. Rose Award in 1980, and honorary degrees from institutions across the globe. When he died at age 90 in May 2010, Vallee held the Paul C. Cabot professorship of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School.

“Bert was an outstanding biochemist. He was also a very generous person — very helpful to many people,” says Gordon Hammes, vice president and secretary of the Vallee Foundation and professor emeritus at Duke University. “He was all about basic research in the biomedical sciences and trying to eventually apply this to clinical situations. He had a number of patents, and he was particularly interested in alcoholism and, later, angiogenesis.”

The Vallee Foundation is perhaps best known for its visiting professorship program, which allows senior scientists to spend four weeks in other labs. “Bert was very interested in promoting interdisciplinary research throughout the world,” Hammes says. “If you look at the list of people who’ve benefitted from the foundation, they’re from all over the world.”

Dozens of researchers, about a third of them ASBMB members, have won Vallee professorships.

“First there was a restricted number of labs (the winners could visit) because Bert wanted a lot of them to come to Harvard so he could interact with them!” Hammes says. “But gradually it expanded, and basically it’s now any good lab they want to visit. It’s a great program.”

Hammes, who was friends with Vallee for some 50-odd years and who is now retired and living in Florida, knows firsthand what a gift the Vallee professorships can be. After several successful decades at the bench, he closed his lab and served for 12 years as a university administrator, primarily as vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Duke University Medical Center. “When I wanted to quit that job and go back into research, Bert offered me one of those fellowships. So I came to Harvard and started research in an entirely new field,” he recalls.

Kuggie Vallee also was a strong supporter of science, Hammes says. The Pennsylvania native taught biology at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., for 27 years. She then took an appointment at Harvard University, where she remained until her retirement in 2002. She died in November 2011.

While the traditional Vallee professorships are geared toward senior scientists, the award to be issued by the ASBMB has few requirements. The Vallees “were dedicated to science and to helping the people who do it,” Hammes says. “All the board wants is someone who is really outstanding, carrying out basic research in the biomedical sciences, from anywhere and of any age.”

Hammes says the foundation chose the ASBMB to administer the award because it has a solid track record of selecting exceptional award recipients. He notes that the foundation also is developing programs for young investigators. For more information about its various initiatives, visit www.thevalleefoundation.org.

Angela HoppAngela Hopp (ahopp@asbmb.org) is editor of ASBMB Today.

 

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