Thursday, 02 May 2013 20:00

Shirley Tilghman Elected as ASCB 2015 President

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Shirley M. Tilghman Shirley M. Tilghman

Shirley M. Tilghman, President of Princeton University, has been elected by the members of the American Society for Cell Biology to serve as Society President in 2015.

"ASCB is very fortunate to have Shirley Tilghman as our President-Elect," said Don Cleveland, Head of the Laboratory for Cell Biology at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and current Society President. "A spectacularly accomplished scientist who is just finishing 12 years as President of Princeton, Shirley is outstanding on all levels. She has an enviable mix of scientific insight, accomplishment and imagination, coupled with charm and wit."

"It is an honor to have been elected to serve as the President of the ASCB," Tilghman said. "To paraphrase Charles Dickens, these are the best of times and the worst of time for biomedical and biological research. The pace of scientific discovery has never been so rapid, yet public support is eroding. I look forward to working with the leadership and membership of the ASCB to ensure that we are making a compelling case for research as an investment in the future."

Tilghman's scientific career has focused on the genetic regulation of mouse development. During her postdoctoral training in the lab of Phillip Leder at the National Institutes of Health, Tilghman worked on the team that cloned the first mammalian gene. She joined the faculty of Princeton University as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences in 1986, where her lab studied genomic imprinting and embryonic development. One major focus was the H19 gene: Located in an imprinted chromosomal region that expresses only the maternal copy of the gene, it encodes one of the most abundant mRNAs in the embryonic mouse. Tilghman's group found that while the mRNA was spliced and capped, there was a mysterious absence of open reading frames. This discovery was ahead of its time, as it would later emerge that the H19 mRNA itself, rather than a translated product, plays important regulatory roles in tumorigenesis.

Tilghman was elected President of Princeton University in 2001, becoming one of the first female Presidents of Ivy League institutions. In this role, she promoted the diversity of the university by expanding the financial aid program, revamped the grading system, and oversaw the development of several institutes, among them the Integrated Science Program. "This is a visionary curriculum, revolutionizing the way science is taught to undergraduates using a quantitative approach," said Cameron Myhrvold, a 2011 graduate of this program.

Tilghman's interest in reshaping life science education was also apparent during her service as co-chair of the NIH Biomedical Research Working Group, which proposed training changes aimed at developing a sustainable biomedical research workforce in 2012. According to her ASCB Presidential candidate statement, she intends to carry this goal forward with the Society. "The time is ripe," Tilghman wrote, "to reform the ways in which we educate future biological and biomedical scientists, so that they are well prepared for the many diverse careers that await them." She also emphasized the need for advocacy, encouraging scientists to "make the case for the importance of fundamental discovery as the "seed corn" of future prosperity," and called for inquiry on whether "taxpayers' investments are being optimally mobilized to catalyze the scientific discoveries."

An ASCB member since 1991, Tilghman received the Society's Women in Cell Biology Senior Award in 2000. She will take office as President for a term of one year in January 2015, succeeding Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz.

"It is a great privilege for me to serve the Society and in general the scientific community together with the strong leadership that ASCB members have elected," said Stefano Bertuzzi, Executive Director of the ASCB. "I think that Shirley Tilghman will bring an important perspective to the Society given her tenure as Princeton University President; her interest in workforce issues and young investigators will be an invaluable asset for ASCB."

Jessica Polka

Jessica Polka is interested in the spatial organization of the bacterial cell. Having studied a plasmid-segregating actin homolog during her PhD with Dyche Mullins at UCSF, she is currently a working on a natural and engineered bacterial compartments during a postdoc in Pam Silver's lab at the Harvard Medical School.

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