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June 2003 Issue

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Nira Ben-Jonathan Receives 2003 Rieveschl Award

Published June 2003

Nira Ben-Jonathan, PhD, professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy at the UC College of Medicine, is the winner of the 2003 Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research. Dr. Ben-Jonathan is a leading endocrine researcher working to identify relationships between the actions of this system and certain types of cancer.

"Nira is a delight to have in the department," said Peter Stambrook, PhD, chairman of the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy in the UC College of Medicine. "Her science is remarkably creative and has taken her down numerous productive roads. She has great instincts and great insights into scientific problems."

A major research focus of Dr. Ben-Jonathan's stems from her curiosity of the brain's effect on prolactin, a hormone secreted from the pituitary gland involved in lactation and reproduction. It is this interest that led Dr. Ben-Jonathan to her research on the role of prolactin in breast cancer, and more recently obesity. While studying samples of glandular tissue from breast cancer patients, Dr. Ben-Jonathan discovered the presence of prolactin in the negative control tissue, the fat tissue around the breast. Dr. Ben-Jonathan is currently testing fat tissue for prolactin levels in order to form hypotheses about this hormone's role in obesity.

Dr. Ben-Jonathan said she would not trade her job for anything. Research conferences have allowed her to travel the globe. She describes her field as one that is always evolving.

"We move from descriptive to mechanistic to functional, and eventually the things that we do can be translated to drugs, treatment, diagnosis or prognosis of different endocrine problems," said Dr. Ben-Jonathan. "That's the exciting thing. We can see a transition from work in the laboratory to humans and how it can affect them."

Although Dr. Ben-Jonathan's primary focus is neural-endocrinology, her research interests are continually expanding. She has worked with researchers in the Department of Environmental Health to discover that a common component of the inner surface of food cans can actually mimic estrogen and alter the behavior and growth of cells in the reproductive tissues. Dr. Ben-Jonathan's discovery of this component, Bisphenol A, prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to focus on its relationship to breast and ovarian cancer.

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