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Vanderbilt Prize winner Susan Taylor, Ph.D., describes her study of protein kinase A during her recent Discovery Lecture. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Vanderbilt Prize winner nurtures role as mentor

BY: BILL SNYDER

2/26/2010 - Cradling a slender sculpture called “Mentor” in her arms, internationally known scientist Susan Taylor, Ph.D., shed a few tears as she received the fourth Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science.

“This is a special honor,” said Taylor, professor of Pharmacology, Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, before launching into her Discovery Lecture at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last week.

The Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science honors women who have made significant advances in the biological and biomedical sciences and who have contributed positively to the mentorship of other women in science. It includes a $25,000 award to Taylor and names a Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar who is a woman in the early phase of graduate training.

This year's Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar is Elizabeth Dong, who is working toward her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in Vanderbilt's Medical Scientist Training Program.

Elizabeth Dong, third from left, is this years Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar. Here she is joined by, from left, Susan Wente, Ph.D., Susan Taylor, Ph.D., and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Elizabeth Dong, third from left, is this years Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar. Here she is joined by, from left, Susan Wente, Ph.D., Susan Taylor, Ph.D., and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Dong has completed two years of medical school and is enrolled in the Chemical & Physical Biology graduate program.

During her lecture, entitled “Dynamics of Signaling by PKA” (protein kinase A), Taylor described this biologically pivotal enzyme and how it has captivated her for much of her career.

Protein kinases are enzymes that, by attaching phosphate groups to other proteins, can turn them “on” or “off” or otherwise affect their function. Found throughout the animal kingdom, they help regulate development, cell growth and cell death.

In humans, defects in PKA have been associated with immune disorders, heart disease and cancer. The anti-cancer drugs Gleevec and Iressa work by blocking kinase action.

Taylor and her colleagues at UCSD solved the crystal structure of PKA in 1991. Since then, they have helped reveal how — at the structural level — the enzyme is activated and how it can be inhibited. These discoveries, she said, “are like (sharing) another phase of the life of this friend of mine.”

Further progress, Taylor added, will take “a very interdisciplinary kind of approach … There's a lot for all of us still to do. We can understand pieces. You need to understand how they work together to really get the essence of the biology.”

For more information about the Vanderbilt Prize, including a list of previous winners, go to https://med-school.vanderbilt.edu/dean and click on “Vanderbilt Prize.”

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture series and archived video of previous lectures, go to www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/discoveryseries.

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