ASCB Honors Wente

November 4, 2011 | Bill Snyder

Susan Wente, Ph.D.

Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and professor of Cell & Developmental Biology, is the recipient of the 2011 Women in Cell Biology Senior Career Recognition Award from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB).

The award is given to senior researchers “whose outstanding scientific achievements are coupled with a long-standing record of support for women in science and by mentorship of both men and women in scientific careers.”

The award, which includes a $1,000 check, will be presented Dec. 6 at the ASCB annual meeting in Denver.

Distinguished as a scientist, mentor and academic leader, Wente also is senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences and currently serves as interim chair of the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology after being chair from 2002-2009.

Her lab has made significant contributions to understanding the structure and function of nuclear pore complexes, which transport molecules between the cell’s nucleus and cytoplasm, the mechanism of translocation across the nuclear pore and inositol phosphate signaling.

In 1996, while on the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Wente and her colleagues discovered Gle1, a protein that helps shuttle mRNA from the nucleus to the cytoplasm through the nuclear pore complex.

She came to Vanderbilt in 2002 as professor and chair of Cell & Developmental Biology. Six years later, a link between the Gle1 gene and a lethal human fetal disease was reported. Wente’s group is now developing a model for how Gle1 “dysfunction” leads to disease.

Last year Wente received a MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award from the National Institutes of Health to continue her research on nuclear pore complexes. It will provide more than $2.2 million over five years, with the potential for a five-year extension.

Mentoring young researchers is a major part of Wente’s scientific life.

“The career lessons I pass on always include encouraging others to aim high and to build their confidence to take risks,” she wrote in the Nov. 1 issue of the ASCB journal, Molecular Biology of the Cell.

As senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, Wente oversees the basic science training of more than 700 graduate students and 500 postdoctoral research fellows at the Medical Center. As associate vice chancellor for Research, she is involved in strategic planning and ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to support cutting-edge research.

At the national level, Wente has served on the ASCB Council, and recently she was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Wente is among 26 scientists who have received the Women in Cell Biology Senior Career Recognition Award since 1986. Among them are two recipients of the National Medal of Science, and a winner of both the Nobel Prize in medicine and the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D.

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