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Vanderbilt Prize winner shares career insights

Dec. 6, 2018, 10:06 AM


From left are Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Vanderbilt Prize lecturer Lynne Maquat, PhD, Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar Katherine Rothamel, and Lawrence Marnett, PhD. (photo by Steve Green)

by Leigh MacMillan

Lynne Maquat, PhD, recipient of the 2017 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, shared some career advice with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at her Vanderbilt Prize lecture last week.

In the spirit of mentoring that is part of the Vanderbilt Prize, she said, “I think it’s important to take your career step-by-step and just focus on what you need to do now, because having a career is a process.”

In her own career, Maquat has made pioneering discoveries about the role of RNA regulation in human disease.

Maquat is the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. She is founding director of the University’s Center for RNA Biology and founding chair of the Graduate Women in Science mentoring program.

Maquat shared the story of her discovery — starting from a human disease — of a “quality control pathway” that removes faulty messenger RNA (mRNA) to help limit the synthesis of abnormal proteins.

Early in her career, Maquat focused on the beta-thalassemias — anemias caused by defects in the beta globin gene that codes for part of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein. In her analysis of the genetic defects, she discovered nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD).

She and her team have mechanistically characterized NMD and have demonstrated how cells use NMD to adapt to changing environments.

“NMD targets the disease-associated mRNAs in one-third of individuals with an inherited disease and also acquired diseases like cancer, Maquat said. “NMD is a big deal.”

Before the lecture, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Lawrence Marnett, PhD, Dean of Basic Sciences at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, presented Maquat with the 2017 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science.

They also recognized the 2017 Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar, Katherine Rothamel, a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry.

Established in 2006, the Vanderbilt Prize honors women scientists with a stellar record of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science. Recipients mentor female graduate students — Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholars — who are pursuing their doctorates in the biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine.

Maquat’s lecture, which was part of the Flexner Discovery Lecture Series, was sponsored by the Offices of the Executive Vice President for Research and the Dean of Basic Sciences.

For a complete schedule of the Flexner Discovery Lecture series and archived video of previous lectures, go to


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