October 10, 2003

Osheroff honored with new Coniglio chair

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Neil Osheroff, Ph.D.

Osheroff honored with new Coniglio chair

Neil Osheroff, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Medicine, is the first recipient of the newly established Dr. John Coniglio Chair in Biochemistry, named for the long-time faculty member in the department who died in 2001.

“I can think of no one more deserving of this honor, recognizing Dr. Coniglio who provided outstanding leadership in education during his more than 40 years as a member of our faculty,” Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said in announcing the appointment.

Osheroff, who directs the Medical Biochemistry course for first-year medical students in addition to his research responsibilities, has been a member of the Vanderbilt faculty for 20 years.

Last year, he received a faculty teaching award for mentoring graduate and/or medical students in the research setting.

“He’s a wonderful teacher … and he’s an outstanding scientist,” says Michael R. Waterman, Ph.D., Natalie Overall Warren Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biochemistry, who recommended establishment of the chair to recognize Osheroff’s achievements.

The chair will be supported by a $2 million endowment. A portion of the income from the endowment will be used to support Osheroff’s laboratory and research, which focuses on enzymes known as DNA topoisomerases.

These enzymes play essential roles in DNA replication, recombination, and chromosome segregation. They also are the targets for some of the most successful anticancer and antibacterial drugs currently in clinical use.

“I am immensely grateful to Michael Waterman … and Dean Gabbe,” Osheroff said. “I am thrilled with the name of the chair. John Coniglio was a fixture in this department for many, many years. He was an excellent scientist and a wonderful colleague. It is an honor to carry his name as part of my title.”

Coniglio, who earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Vanderbilt and was a leader in lipid research, directed the Medical Biochemistry course for more than 30 years, before Osheroff took it over in 1990.

“Teaching medical students in the fall semester of the first year is both exhilarating and challenging,” Osheroff said. “It’s a tremendous transition for the students (from college to medical school).

As a course director, my job is not only to teach them biochemistry, but to help them through the transition and guide them on their first steps toward becoming physicians.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Osheroff earned his bachelor’s degree from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y., and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Northwestern University. He joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1983, after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University.

Over the years, 13 graduate students have earned their Ph.D. degrees in his laboratory. “They have all done amazingly well, and I am extremely proud of all of them,” he said. An additional six students currently are training with him.

Osheroff’s research has helped guide clinical trials of new drugs. “A personal goal of mine is to contribute to the development of a new class of anticancer drugs,” he said.

“I believe that in science you can leave your legacy in one of two ways,” Osheroff continued. “The first way is through your research … The second way is through your students. In many respects, the latter is the more important of the two.