Dr. Roberts, a Pittsburgh native, graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and received a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. She did postdoctoral work as a National Institutes of Health fellow at Wisconsin and Harvard Medical School before becoming staff chemist at Aerospace Research Applications Center in Bloomington, Ind. She then taught chemistry at Indiana University.
She joined the National Cancer Institute in 1976 and by 1990 rose to deputy chief of the Laboratory of Cell Regulation and Carcinogenesis, then its acting chief and, in 1995, to chief, a position she held until two years ago.
Dr Roberts also kept a personal journal of what she called her journey. Her last entry ends “Love to all of you, and no regrets”; we should all die so well.
In November of last year, having no idea that she was ill, I emailed Dr Roberts (cold; she had no idea who I was) to ask if she would send me some Smad3-knockout mouse embryo fibroblasts. For readers who are unfamiliar with gene knockouts, those are MEFs from a mouse strain in which the Smad3 gene has been deleted; this is a complex biological reagent which took many months to construct and formed a cornerstone of Dr Roberts’ work on TGF-beta signaling in cancer. Rather than ignore an ill-timed request from a complete nobody, Dr Roberts promptly forwarded my request on to a colleague who sent me the cells. I have been working with them for some months, and will now think of Dr Roberts every time I use them.
My thoughts are with her family and friends, whose loss is all the greater.