Irwin Rose, PhD, Nobel Laureate and Biochemist, Dies at 88

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Irwin “Ernie” Rose, PhD

Scientist and Nobel Laureate ­Irwin “Ernie” Rose, PhD, passed away June 2, 2015, after a long illness. He was 88. Dr. Rose shared the 2004 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Aaron Ciechanover, MD, DSc, and Avram Hershko, MD, PhD, of the Israel Institute of Technology for their pioneering work in discovering the ubiquitin conjugating system. Dr. Rose conducted this research as a senior scientist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he worked from 1963 until he retired in 1995.

“Dr. Rose was a collaborator in the truest sense of the word,” said ­Richard Fisher, MD, President and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center. “He contributed to many advances in the field of biochemistry, and we were extremely fortunate to have had him as an esteemed member of our scientific faculty.”

Overseeing a Biochemical Breakthrough

Dr. Rose forged an unparalleled career as one of the world’s top biochemists. He earned a doctoral degree at the University of Chicago in 1952 and spent his career on research that revealed how ubiquitin molecules facilitate the breakdown of old and damaged proteins. These findings of the “kiss-of-death” mechanisms inside cells proved revolutionary, transforming the field of biology and ultimately fostering a new understanding of the molecular activity involved with cancer and other diseases.

“Dr. Rose had a genius for asking the right questions,” said Jonathan ­Chernoff, MD, PhD, Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “In the mid-1950s, when many scientists were interested in how proteins are synthesized, he became fascinated with the opposite issue—how are proteins degraded? With the collaboration of his Israeli colleagues, he cracked that problem with the discovery of the ubiquitin conjugating system. He was the quintessential scientist—perseverant, soft-spoken, and interested in science for science’s sake.”

Dr. Rose’s laboratory discoveries led to the development of cancer drugs such as bortezomib (Velcade).

“Dr. Rose was not interested in personal fame, and was oblivious to the politics of science; his total satisfaction came from solving intricate biochemical puzzles,” said Ann Skalka, PhD, William Wikoff Smith Chair in Cancer Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Although he was an intellectual leader on the project that ultimately won him the Nobel, he took no personal credit. He was rather surprised at being recognized, but all of us at Fox Chase knew that the Nobel Committee had gotten it right.” ■




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