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Elizabeth Theil, PhD: Honoring 55 Years of Research
CHORI Holds Daylong Research Symposium

September 17th, 2011 - The year 2011 marks the 55th year in which CHORI Senior Scientist Elizabeth Theil, PhD, has been practicing research, and CHORI celebrated by hosting a research symposium to honor Dr. Theil and her career to date. The September 17th, daylong event included presentations by both former students who have gone on to establish their independent research careers in academia or biotech, and fellow scientists with whom Dr. Theil has collaborated.

"The symposium was perfect. It was a day of really superb science, supported by good fellowship, great food, lovely flowers all the creature comforts," says Dr. Theil. "I was expecting to reconnect with a lot of people I hadn't seen in a very long time, but I hadn't anticipated the depth and breadth of the science."

“Every single talk was exciting, and getting to hear my friends and my former students talk about what they do now was fantastic.”

While the talks ranged in topics from cancer-causing chromosomal re-arrangements to metal recognition by nickel trafficking proteins in bacteria important in managing human ulcers, the backdrop to the day was ferritin, the antioxidant nanoprotein and it's encoding mRNA. Ferritin concentrates iron inside each cell of the body for iron-protein synthesis and is the star of Dr. Theil's research career.

Since Dr. Theil's first publication on ferritin in 1973, Dr. Theil has gone on to conduct ground-breaking studies of biomineralized iron and ferritin, including but not limited to the discovery of iron/RNA/protein interactions that control ferritin biosynthesis, the identification of ion channels through which iron enters ferritin, the ability of iron to be chelated from ferritin by flexible pores with cytoplasmic gates that can be used as chelator targets, and the nutritional availability of ferritin iron in legume ferritin.

“CHORI has been, and always will be, very lucky to have Elizabeth Theil,” says CHORI Executive Director, Alexander Lucas, PhD.

"Dr. Theil has had a stellar career to date, with a publication record of over 180 papers, and international recognition for her innovative research," says Dr. Lucas.

"Over the course of her 55-year career, Dr. Theil's research has evolved from focusing primarily on molecular and biological approaches in her exploration of ferritin to utilizing physical, chemica andl genetic approaches as well. In addition, Dr. Theil has also rolled translational research into her research practice, with a focus on using discoveries about how ferritin works as a basis for chelation therapies for treating iron overload, and investigating the bioavailability of ferritin in foods such as legumes.

With Dr. Theil’s own unique career path as a model, Dr. Theil has had the opportunity to help lead the effort to better integrate chemistry and biology research practices. Dr. Theil has advocated for biochemistry studies to be included in the education of all chemists and was a founding member of The Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry, a group of inorganic chemists committed to studying both inorganic chemistry and biology.

“Dr. Theil is an inspiration for all of us who aspire to do good science, but in particular, she is an inspiration and role model for young biochemists and biomedical scientists who seek to transcend traditional boundaries of chemistry and biology to illuminate fundamental processes and to apply this understanding to health and disease.”

In addition, Dr. Theil has been a significant role model for women in science, beginning her career in the early '60's, when women having careers, never mind careers in scientific research, was an uphill battle. Though the climate is very different 55 years later, the challenge of being a woman in science has not gone away.

“I think one of the most succinct lines regarding the issue of women and science was from a woman faculty member at MIT who asked, Why is it that when anyone wants to know about family issues and science, they only ask the women scientists?’. As far as I know, it takes both,” says Dr. Theil. “It’s a major societal issue. It’s to our advantage in our science-based society that we provide access for the best brains, regardless of their gender.”

Thankfully, Dr. Theil was able to create access for herself over five decades ago so that she could go on to pioneer the field of bioiron, mentoring over 30 graduate and post-doctoral students along the way. Her long list of accomplishments is by far complete, however, as Dr. Theil looks beyond her current achievements to the next set of goals, including expanding her RNA regulatory research beyond ferritin to other newly identified RNAs, finding a way to apply more fully the body of knowledge about ferritin to iron deficiency treatment, and identifying the biological partners that move iron in and out of ferritin in the cell.

As Dr. Theil says, “It’s a wonderful life, a wonderful career. It’s hard work, but it’s exciting, too, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”


Tuesday, November 15, 2011 11:22 AM

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