January 2013

Vytas Bankaitis: new director of the Lipid Research Division

Photo of Vyto Bankaitis 

Like everyone, I occasionally get the opportunity to write about something that is exciting flavored with a little nostalgia. For me, this opportunity presents itself as I write to tell you about stepping down as director of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Lipid Research Division while introducing our new director. Stepping down is definitely filled with mixed emotion. Yet I’m incredibly excited that Vytas (Vyto) Bankaitis has agreed to take the reins.

The LRD began over breakfast. Yes, it was a breakfast conversation with a number of our colleagues from different lipid fields. What came out of that conversation was a desire to do something that would solidify our community and provide a forum that would help support our common aspirations. After discussing this with a wide number of lipidologists, we began toying with the idea of starting an independent lipid society, which would have been a daunting task indeed. Fortunately, Greg Petsko, president of the ASBMB at the time, encouraged us to organize under the auspices of the ASBMB. I can’t tell you how lucky we were to do just that. Executive Director Barbara Gordon and her staff at the ASBMB were, and are, incredible. Launching the society with the ASBMB infrastructure was not only efficient, but it was fun and rewarding.

The LRD, the first division within the ASBMB, is now well established. We have more than 500 member lipid biochemists, chemists, biologists and biophysicists. We have representation on the ASBMB Meetings Committee, contribute a monthly article in ASBMB Today and maintain an LRD website known as the Lipid Corner. Most importantly, we have begun our efforts to address funding problems lipid researchers face at a variety of agencies with a focus on the National Institutes of Health. In fact, this is one of Vyto’s major objectives, and he plans on taking advantage of the expertise of Ben Corb, the ASBMB’s public affairs director.

Vyto is the E. L. Wehner-Welch Foundation chairman in chemistry at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine in College Station, Texas.  He has been involved in lipid research for more than 20 years and has made seminal contributions to the field. They are too numerous to list in this article, but his contributions have greatly advanced our understanding of the biology and biochemistry of phospholipid transfer proteins. Vyto has focused much of his studies on the phosphatidylinositol/phosphatidylcholine transfer proteins, or PITPs. His work has led to new insights regarding the mechanism of lipid-driven metabolic reactions and intracellular signaling pathways in both yeast and mammals.

Most of us who know Vyto are fully confident of one thing: Enthusiasm, energy and creativity will be not be in short supply at the LRD leadership. Vyto has a strong dedication to lipid research and lipid researchers. He is full of ideas and has the skills and energy to accomplish his goals. He already has begun to plan how to move the LRD forward. I will let him write to outline his goals and hopes, but I’m looking forward to the next three years with great excitement.

Picture of Daniel RabenDaniel Raben (draben@jhmi.edu) is director of the ASBMB Lipid Division and a professor in the department of biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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