2014 Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Seminar

On September 18, 2014, members of Einstein’s faculty and student body gathered for the fifth Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Seminar, established in 2010 to honor the scientific achievements of the innovative geneticist who was a member of Einstein’s founding faculty and served as the first chair of its genetics department.

The seminar represents the collaboration between Einstein’s genetics department and the Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine at the University of Freiburg, to award the Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Prize for the best doctoral dissertation at the German graduate school. The goal of the prize is to recognize talented graduate students and to encourage the exchange of ideas, while also recalling the contributions of Dr. Waelsch to the field of genetics.

In introducing the seminar, Dr. Hannes Buelow, associate professor of genetics and of neuroscience at Einstein, noted, “Dr. Waelsch is the founder of developmental genetics… and we honor her distinguished career and accomplishments with this yearly award lecture.”

This year’s award recipient was Dr. Sylvia Hoff, whose dissertation, “ANKS6 Assembles a Novel Nephronophthisis Protein,” was completed under the supervision of Drs. Gerd Walz and Soeren Lienkamp in the nephrology department at the Freiburg University Medical Center. Dr. Hoff’s research focused on nephronophthisis (NPHP), a genetic disorder that causes polycystic kidney disease in children. She identified mutations in the ANKS6 gene that cause polycystic kidney disease, and also demonstrated the role of ANKS6 in facilitating the formation of a protein network that leads to the manifestation of the disease.

Reflecting on her honor, Dr. Hoff noted, “Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch was an outstanding woman and extraordinary scientist, with so much energy and motivation. She never gave up, and her work and life are still inspiring.”

Acknowledging Obstacles Overcome

While Dr. Waelsch was a distinguished member of the Einstein faculty for more than 40 years, her success was not without adversity. During the course of her lifetime she faced challenges on both the academic and personal level.

Born in Danzig, Germany in 1907, she earned her doctorate at the University of Freiburg in 1932, under the mentorship of Dr. Hans Spemann. There, she encountered much skepticism from her colleagues, including Dr. Spemann, for suggesting that development was under genetic control. Then, in 1933, Dr. Waelsch, who was Jewish, was forced to leave Germany to escape persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime.

From 1936 to 1955, she worked at Columbia University and later at Columbia Medical School, but was unable to obtain a faculty appointment because of her gender. She left Columbia when she was invited to join the faculty at the newly founded College of Medicine. Her accomplishments, including her leading role in the field of genetics, earned her numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1993 and the 1999 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal from the Genetics Society of America, which recognizes lifetime achievements in genetics. She passed away in 2007, soon after her centennial birthday.

Dr. Sylvia Hoff (center), with Drs. Hannes Buelow and Jan Vijg
Dr. Sylvia Hoff (center), with Drs. Hannes Buelow and Jan Vijg
This year’s award recipient, Dr. Sylvia Hoff
This year’s award recipient, Dr. Sylvia Hoff
Dr. Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch
Dr. Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch
 

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