In Memoriam: Nancy L.R. Bucher, 104, pioneer of growth control and catalytic member of ASCB

Nancy Bucher, who died in February, was one of the first women to receive an MD degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, but this was not to be her “last first.” In her early career at Harvard’s Huntington Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) she executed a remarkable experiment that profoundly transformed the field of growth control. She surgically coupled the circulation of two rats, did a partial hepatectomy on one, and observed that the contralateral animal’s liver grew in parallel with the ipsilateral organ. Her results electrified the field and set the stage for the discovery of paracrine growth factors. Just prior to this experiment she had made another huge contribution, the discovery of HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme that launches cholesterol biosynthesis. Nancy went on to a highly productive career studying liver growth regulation and homeostasis at Mass General and later at Boston University School of Medicine.

Nancy was a pioneer of ASCB, having joined as a founding member. In ASCB’s early years we were all struck by her tremendous loyalty as well as her “sermons” in which she conveyed her passionate belief that ASCB was something of a sleeping giant. Serving as ASCB’s third secretary (1973–1978), she masterfully handled membership and finances at a time when the former involved boxes of 3 × 5 file cards but presciently saw that this was not going to be sustainable as a volunteer effort. In 1977 she lobbied ASCB’s President Keith Porter and others to recognize the need to establish a national office and in due course this came to pass, catalyzing ASCB’s ascent. She was instrumental in recruiting Emma Shelton, her successor as ASCB Secretary, to become the Society’s first paid executive director.

I was privileged to know Nancy not only through ASCB but also from when she was on the board of trustees of my institution at the time, the Worcester Foundation. She was a vibrant and delightful conversationalist, always keen to know all about you while keeping her many accomplishments under a basket. She was of course also a powerful role model for women coming up, particularly as she had excelled in the male-dominated Harvard Medical School in her ascending years.

My most vivid and lasting memory of Nancy is her constitutionally upbeat and cheerful outlook, one that made everyone who came into her radius happier, and better.

About the Author:

University of Massachusetts Medical School

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