Dr. Janis H. Jackson, 1953-2003
Janis H. Jackson, M.D., a talented scientist who worked at
The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) for over 16 years and
a gifted mentor for a generation of young students, died last
Saturday, March 22, 2003 from complications related to pulmonary
fibrosis at a local hospital. She was 49.
Trained originally as a clinician and later as a laboratory
scientist, Jackson was both of these and more. In his eulogy
delivered at her service, TSRI Professor Charles Cochrane,
a close friend, collaborator, and colleague, described Jackson
as a thoughtful and caring scientific investigator, who had
determined shortly after completing medical school that she
could have a greater impact on human health by applying her
efforts to research rather than to the bedside practice of
Cochrane recalled that Jackson approached her research with
rare vigor and insight from the moment she arrived to long
after she had established her own laboratory at TSRI.
"One of my joys was taking my research problems to her office
to pass them before her scrutiny," he said. "And every time,
new light was shed upon complex difficulties by Jan, who drew
from a seemingly limitless background of information."
At TSRI, Jackson worked towards understanding pulmonary
inflammatory disease and the development of cancer. When she
first arrived at TSRI in July 1985, she began, with Cochrane,
by exploring the mechanisms of oxidative damage to lung tissue
during inflammation, which is an important component of pulmonary
Her earliest findings were that oxidants generated in the
inflammatory process combined with transition metals in the
vicinity of nuclear DNA caused damage to the DNA. She found
that all four DNA bases were hydroxylated. Repair of this
injury led to the loss of cellular energy and death of the
cells, a mechanism that has subsequently been found to be
of great significance in lung disease. But of equal importance,
she found that the oxidant-damaged DNA would undergo mutations,
and the mutated DNA could lead to malignant transformations.
These findings led Jackson into the realm of the biochemistry
of carcinogenesis, one that fascinated her and to which she
applied herself through her remaining years at TSRI.
"Jan was constantly reporting fascinating developments in
her research," says Richard Ulevitch, who was chair of her
department throughout many of these years. "I always looked
forward to hearing the presentations she gave."
Jackson was a prodigious collaborator, working extensively
with other scientists at TSRI, neighboring institutions like
the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), The Salk
Institute, and the Burnham Institute, and other universities.
Equally great were her contributions in education and community
service. Through her work with the TSRI volunteer group ScrippsAssists,
for instance, she coordinated many Saturday trips to St. Vincent
de Paul Village, where she and other TSRI volunteers helped
serve meals to its homeless residents. Directly and indirectly,
she played a major role in the lives of many young minds,
personally mentoring dozens of junior high and high school
students and serving on the boards of related organizations.
She was wholeheartedly committed to increasing the number
of African Americans interested in pursuing careers in science
and medicine, and she was a vital supporter of TSRI's education
outreach initiative. From the program's inception in 1989
to the summer of 2000, Jackson mentored dozens of high school
students and several undergraduates through internships in
her laboratory, offering them intensive, hands-on research
experiences. Most of these young people were from ethnic groups
traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, and all of
them went on to universities, many with full scholarships.
Several of her former student interns are now successful physicians
Levy Lewis, who recently received his B.S. degree from the
University of California, Davis and who is working at the
Bodega Marine Lab, was a Mount Miguel High School student
who interned in Jackson's lab in the summer of 1997. "Working
with Dr. Jackson was extremely challenging," Lewis reported
at the end of that summer. "Not only did she want me to know
how to do our experiments, but also why we did them. She handed
me an experiment that was worthy of post-docs in our lab.
It was a demanding, yet enjoyable experience."
Jackson also mentored students under the auspices of the
Elementary Institute of Science (EIS), a San Diego non-profit
founded in 1964 with the aim of providing science enrichment
for children underrepresented in the sciences. She started
out mentoring several high school students through the internship
program, and later served on several committees for the organization,
including vice president of their board of directors and head
of a critical fundraising effort.
"Jan was very much committed to getting good, solid science
education for all students in San Diego, regardless of which
community they came from," says Doris Anderson, the executive
director of EIS.
As vice president of the EIS board, Jackson took a leadership
role in the capital campaign for a new science and technology
learning center. Her efforts will bear fruit next month when
EIS moves into its new 15,000 square foot facility at 608
51st Street in San Diego, where nine laboratories will provide
kids the opportunity to study chemistry, biology, geology,
astronomy, computers, engineering, and photography in a creative
She also advocated for San Diego high school students through
the local chapter of the National Organization for the Professional
Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE).
She served as moderator for the organization's science bowl
and judge and mentor for its annual science fair, a friendly
competition where local high school students present individual
research projects. In 1999, the organization awarded her its
Community Service Award.
Says local NOBCChE Chapter President Ron Lewis, "As much
as Jan was doing, she always found time to come out and help
Frank Chisari, another TSRI colleague, remembers Jackson's
work serving as a member of the scientific advisory committee
for the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC), which Chisari
directs. She would evaluate the scientific merits of protocols
submitted by Scripps investigators to the GCRC and would advise
the GCRC on policy questions.
She brought to every discussion, Chisari remembers, both
a balanced perspective and invaluable insight that were wrought
from her broad experiences that took her from the heart of
the inner city to the top of the ivory tower.
"I will miss [her contributions] very much," he says. "And
I will miss her very much."
Born on December 6, 1953 in Kansas City, Kansas, to Dr.
Verna Worthy Jackson and the late Dr. John Henry Jackson,
Janis Jackson received her formal education in the Denver
Public School System. After graduating from East High School,
she attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island
with a major in Biology and Chemistry. She continued her studies
at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where
she received her M.D. degree.
She subsequently completed a one-year internship at the
University of California, Los Angeles, a two-year internal
medicine residency at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia,
and a three-year pulmonary fellowship at the University of
Colorado Health Sciences Center. Upon completion of her fellowship
and her board certification in pulmonary medicine, she relocated
to La Jolla, California to accept a position at TSRI.
A service for Jackson was held on Tuesday, March 25, 2003
at the Bethel AME Church in San Diego. She will be buried
by her family in Denver, Colorado.
Jackson is survived by her mother, two sisters, and a host
of other relatives and friends. The family has established
the Dr. Janis H. Jackson Endowed Memorial Fund. Donations
should be made to the Elementary Institute of Science, 588
Euclid Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92114 (619)263-2302.
Dr. Janis H. Jackson, 1953-2003.