March 5, 2010

Symposium honors career of Sanders-Bush

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At the unveiling of her portrait, Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., was all smiles with her granddaughter, Lucy, daughter, Kate, and son-in-law Michael Loyco. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Symposium honors career of Sanders-Bush

Creating opportunities for others. Exhibiting intellectual bravery. These are unusual descriptions for a scientist. But not for Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D.

During last week's symposium celebrating the career of one of Vanderbilt University's most distinguished pharmacologists, colleagues from around the world cheered her accomplishments — inside and outside the lab.

“Elaine's life … has been (one) of creating opportunities for other people,” said Lee Limbird, Ph.D., former chair of Pharmacology and former associate vice chancellor for Research who now is an adjunct professor in the department. “That commitment … includes opportunities for minority investigators … because talent is everywhere.”

“It's hard to think what Vanderbilt and neuroscience would have been without you,” said the current chair of Pharmacology, Heidi Hamm, Ph.D.
“I really admire your scientific fearlessness and your intellectual curiosity.”

A professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry, Sanders-Bush is internationally recognized for her contributions to understanding the brain chemical serotonin and its receptors.

She is equally well known for mentoring young scientists, some of whom, including Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., spoke at the symposium.

Conn, who directs the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery, discussed his team's search for potential new drugs, called allosteric modulators, to treat disorders such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.

These agents can change, or “modulate” the function of neurotransmitter receptors, molecules involved in transmitting signals between nerve cells, not by binding to the receptor's active site but to different, “allosteric” sites.

Working like a “dimmer switch” in an electrical circuit, they offer new opportunities for adjusting signaling in the brain.

The day-long symposium concluded with a Discovery Lecture, the

French neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeaux, Ph.D., delivered the Discovery Lecture at the conclusion of the symposium. (photo by Anne Rayner)

French neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeaux, Ph.D., delivered the Discovery Lecture at the conclusion of the symposium. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Changeaux, honorary professor at the Collège de France and emeritus professor at the Institut Pasteur, discussed how he and his colleagues identified the first ion channel and membrane receptor of a neurotransmitter, for nicotinic acetylcholine, and determined the structure and functionality of its multiple allosteric sites.

Following Changeaux's lecture, Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, unveiled a new portrait of Sanders-Bush.

It will hang in Light Hall among the portraits of other Vanderbilt luminaries to remind colleagues and teach students that science, in the words of Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., is as much about fearlessness and collegiality as it is about intellectual curiosity.