A very small personal tribute to Dr Anita Roberts

portrait of Anita Roberts from http://rex.nci.nih.gov/RESEARCH/basic/lc/abr303.htmScience has lost one of its best: Anita Roberts died of gastric cancer on May 26 (thanks to Abel for the news, sad though it is). From the WaPo obituary:

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.

One thought on “A very small personal tribute to Dr Anita Roberts

  1. Bill, what an amazing coincidence that just shows her continued dedication to science even in the face of her illness – she apparently also wrote about her illness in Cancer Res awhile back but I’ll have to find the article.
    There’s a great lesson in her statement, “no regrets,” because it is clear that she lived her life in a manner consistent with having done it all the way she wanted. I wonder how many of us in science will be able to say that on our deathbed.

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