SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Scientist Elwood Jensen's mind must rarely be at rest, and the word retirement certainly does not seem to be in his vocabulary.
The 1940 graduate of Wittenberg University continues to discover breakthroughs in medical science, and he still teaches and conducts research, for that the 84-year-old is being recognized with yet another prestigious honor, the 2004 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. Jensen will travel to New York City on Oct. 1 to receive the award, which honors his work in the field of biochemistry.
Often referred to as the "American Nobel," the Lasker Award honorees are selected by a jury of international scientists following an intensive nomination and selection process. Every scientist, since 1992, who has won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, has also won the Lasker Award.
The Lasker Award jury singled Jensen out for his research during the 1950s and 1960s at the University of Chicago, which led to the discovery of the estrogen receptor, vital in the understanding of steroid hormone action and the effective use of hormone therapies for breast cancer treatment.
Jensen, the 2002 recipient of the Brinker International Award of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the George and Elizabeth Wile Chair for Cancer Research at the University of Cincinnati's Vontz Center for Molecular Studies, is a native of Springfield and a graduate of Springfield High School.
He returned to his alma mater in September 2003 for the dedication of the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center and to present an IBM Endowed Lecture for the Wittenberg Series. At the time, he commented about how "proud a day it is to see Wittenberg shine with the addition of the state-of-the-art facility for future scientists to conduct their experiments, learn and discover."
News of Jensen's latest award recently appeared in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Cincinnati Business Courier. The Cincinnati Business Courier stated that a Sept. 26 reception for Jensen at the Cincinnati Country Club had colleagues describing him as "altruistic," "tenacious" and "humble." To which Jensen was quoted, "I'm thrilled and surprised and I guess I just don't know when to quit."
Jensen shares the Lasker Award with two colleagues, Pierre Chambon of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Strasbourg, France, and Ronald Evans of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Nobel laureate Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, chairman of the jury that selects recipients of the Lasker Awards, told the Chicago Tribune that the winning scientists discovered a family of proteins that allows chemicals as diverse as steroid hormones, vitamin A and thyroid hormone to perform in the body.
"Their work provides a blueprint for the development of drugs for many medical problems, including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer," Goldstein continued.
The New York Times article by Nicholas Wade heralded the work of Jensen and his colleagues by saying the three researchers "unmasked an elaborate genetic control system within the cell, which transmits signals in a wide array of vital functions, from the development of organs in the womb, to the control of fat cells and the regulation of cholesterol."
Jensen will share a $50,000 prize with Chambon and Evans.
Jensen's pass at retirement appears to be to the benefit of other scientists and students of science, not to mention the millions of people helped by his award-winning research.
News Update: Oct. 20, 2004
After receiving the 2004 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research Oct. 1 in New York City, Elwood Jensen ’40 needs to make room on the shelf in his office at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s Vontz Center for Molecular Studies so he can display the most prestigious honor in his field. He also needs to have new business cards printed, as he just learned his title has changed from visiting professor in the department of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy and Wile Chair in Cancer Research to Distinguished University Professor at the southern Ohio school.
Jensen, 84, is happy he chose to retire at the age of 70 because “it afforded me the opportunity to move about to places like Manhattan, N.Y., Bethesda, Md., Germany and Sweden to mentor and conduct more research in the field of biochemistry.”
“Many of my contemporaries who retired said they got bored after traveling and playing golf,” Jensen explained. “There is no retirement age now in academics, as long as you continue to be productive, and I’m happy I’ve had the chance to do it all.”
Jensen, whose father was a member of the Wittenberg faculty, said the private university was a very good place for him because “unlike larger state schools, I didn’t get lost in the crowd.” He continued, “While it is about twice as big now, Wittenberg remains small enough to know your professors and have hands on experience in research.”
Often referred to as the “American Nobel,” Lasker Award honorees are selected by a jury of international scientists following an intensive nomination and selection process. Every scientist, since 1992, who has won the Nobel Prize, has also won the Lasker Award.
To have an edge in the fields of science and medicine, Jensen suggests that students take as much chemistry as possible and combine that knowledge with clinical and basic science. “But overall, you should simply enjoy what you’re doing and don’t be shy about finding alternative approaches to solving problems.”
With 27 professional awards, a collaborative biotech company in the works, a new title at UCMC and a very real possibility of becoming Wittenberg’s first Nobel Prize winner in the future, it is apparent Jensen enjoys what he does for a day job and what he has chosen as his form of retirement.
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