September 2010

Richard Hanson: A Maestro of Metabolism


A Renaissance Man

In addition to his exceptional work in the lab and lecture hall, Hanson also is known for his work as an artist (as illustrated above and on our cover). As typical, Hanson takes a more modest view of his abstract drawings, which developed from his penchant for doodling during meetings and seminars; “I see it as a sickness I have that every once in a while results in something nice to look at,” he says. Hanson, though, is certainly appreciative of art in general, and, over the years has bought many pieces from local Cleveland artists and put them up in the biochemistry building. As Merrick likes to joke, “he’s established a lovely gallery here consisting of all the art his wife wouldn’t let him take home.”

In fact, Hanson became committed to the JBC over the years, a reflection of his loyal nature. He would serve on the journal’s editorial board for 10 years before becoming an associate editor, a post he has held since 1985. A longtime member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Hanson also has given exceptional service to the society as a whole, including serving as ASBMB president from 1999 to 2000 (during which time he helped usher in the society’s third journal, Molecular and Cellular Proteomics).

And, whenever his research produces exciting biochemical discoveries, Hanson, who never got caught up in the pressure of trying to continually publish in Science or Nature— he sees them more as magazines that publish what is trendy and exciting at the moment— always immediately thinks about publishing the findings in the JBC.

And, that has led to frequent contributions over the years (more than 90 articles in all, including many reviews), for, while remaining true to the JBC, Hanson also has remained true to his science. Though he’s adapted his studies to make use of new advances, he’s always been a basic biochemist at heart.

“I’ve had a lifelong love affair with metabolism,” he says. “And, even with the ups and downs of the field, I’ve never thought of doing anything else.”

PEP, PEP Hooray

The romance began in 1960. Following his graduation from Northeastern University, Hanson headed to Rhode Island and began graduate school at Brown University, joining Paul F. Fenton’s group in the department of biology. He had met one of Fenton’s recent graduates while working with Bernfeld and had heard positive reviews, so, he decided that studying under Fenton would be a good choice.
“I tell my students that life is like walking down a road and reaching a fork,” Hanson says. “You don’t quite know where either path will take you, and it is often very difficult to go back once you choose one of the forks in the road, so each decision is important.”

In Hanson’s case, the seemingly innocuous decision of picking an adviser would lead to a decades-long journey elucidating the details of intermediary metabolism, or, as Hanson likes to describe it, “a series of happy accidents that were superimposed on each other.”

He started this accidental adventure with his graduate project comparing the metabolic differences in two strains of mice that differed in their propensity to develop obesity, a subject that would become one of great interest in the current era of molecular genetics. He then continued studying lipid metabolism as an officer at the Army’s Nutrition Laboratory in Denver. That experience, followed by his subsequent postdoctoral fellowship at the Fels Research Institute at Temple University, beginning in 1965 with renowned biochemist and cancer researcher Sidney Weinhouse, really would launch his career.

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