Vol 6. Issue 30 / Oct 9, 2006
Friends in High Places
By Eric Sauter
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Roberta Gottlieb, physician, scientist, mother, and part-time surfer, will move her 10-person cardiac research laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute down the road to San Diego State University to become Frederick G. Henry Professor of Life Sciences and director of a new BioScience Center focusing on the connections between infection, inflammation, and heart diseases. While Scripps Research is losing a principal investigator, it is also gaining an influential friend.
Gottlieb envisions the new BioScience Center as eventually housing 12 principal investigators in its 37,000 square foot space—small compared to Scripps Research, but more than enough to keep her busy.
"When people leave Scripps Research," she says, "they generally don't make lateral moves—they usually make a leap to a far more demanding position. More often than not, it involves a leadership position like the one at the new BioScience Center. That's because Scripps is known as a place where the best people in the field come to work. I had never thought about being an administrator, but that changed once I realized how exciting the research would be and how I could create an institution that would have an enormous impact on people's lives."
The collegial atmosphere at Scripps Research has supported Gottlieb in the transition, and throughout the process she has spoken at length with the chairman of her department, Ernest Beutler, and others for helpful and constructive advice.
Gottlieb, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Grants, New Mexico, 60 miles west of Albuquerque, in the heart of uranium mining country, first came to Scripps Research in 1992 after a residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Texas and a two-year stint as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego.
At Scripps Research, Gottlieb has been studying the deep molecular landscape of the heart and the phenomenon of apoptosis or programmed cell death after an ischemic event (heart attack) and reperfusion (reintroduction of blood flow). While heart attacks obviously damage cardiac tissue, so can the cure, cutting loose a variety of substances that turn on the apoptotic process. But because that process is so tightly regulated, it can also be stopped.
More than a dozen years since she began her work at Scripps Research as a postdoctoral fellow, it appears she has found compounds that will do just that, potentially saving invaluable heart tissue and human lives.
Working with Scripps Research Professors Paul Wentworth, Jr., and Mark Yeager, in a 2004 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Gottlieb showed that chloramphenicol, an anti-infective, administered at reperfusion reduced infarct size by 60 percent. Other compelling studies on compounds that inhibit cell death in ischemia and reperfusion are upcoming.
The tremendous therapeutic potential of this work hasn't been lost on Gottlieb, nor have her ongoing ties with Scripps Research investigators Wentworth and Yeager, as the three have formed a company to develop that potential commercially.
"One of the wonderful things about Scripps is there are so many experts, if you ask, you get the most knowledgeable answer possible—because the person down the hall is the leader in the field," she said. "Scripps Research is a place that makes it easy to do research. All you have to do is your science."
Gottlieb hopes to reproduce that synergy at the Bioscence Center, along with Scripps Research's focus on the big picture, on science that matters.
"Everyone at Scripps Research is self-supporting—that makes the science better and makes the institution better. The science has to be exciting and important—it has to be relevant to the world at large. Not everyone can argue that the science they're doing carries that kind of relevance, but most Scripps scientists can tell you why their research is important. That's what I want to achieve at the BioScience Center."
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu