Drs. Benita S. Katzenellenbogen and John A. Katzenellenbogen have been awarded the Fred Conrad Koch Lifetime Achievement Award by the Endocrine Society.

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Drs. John and Benita Katzenellenbogen

The Society’s highest honor, this annual award recognizes lifetime achievements and exceptional contributions to the field of endocrinology. Dr. Benita Katzenellenbogen is currently the Swanlund Chaired Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, and Dr. John Katzenellenbogen is the Swanlund Chaired Professor of Chemistry. This is the first time the award has honored two scientists who collaborate both at work and at home as a married couple.

Their enormous contributions to the field of endocrinology—spanning more than four decades—have greatly advanced our understanding of the broad actions of steroid hormones and their receptors in diverse target tissues in health and disease. Their pioneering work on estrogens and estrogen receptors has defined the multifaceted modes by which these receptors are regulated and act in distinctive and biomedically significant ways. These seminal contributions have also highlighted novel approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of hormone-responsive cancers and beneficial modes of tissue-selective estrogen action for managing various disorders including endometriosis and multiple sclerosis.

"John and Benita Katzenellenbogen represent the best that is Illinois. As outstanding contributors to the research an educational mission of the institution, they are some of our most valued faculty. Importantly, they represent a “bridge” between Colleges on this campus,” said Dr. Stephen Sligar, director of the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “As a member of the College of Medicine on the Urbana-Champaign campus, Benita exemplified the value of a model where the most productive tenured research faculty are engaged in the education of medical, graduate and undergraduate students. Without the College of Medicine, we on this campus would not have benefited from having both John and Benita as colleagues. The Katzenellenbogens represent the importance of this connection in understanding the fundamental mechanisms of biological function. It is wonderful that they have been recognized for their long-term contributions to the University of Illinois.”

“Drs. Benita and John Katzenellenbogen embody the uniqueness of the University of Illinois. As scientists of the highest caliber, they have been instrumental in training our talented Medical Scholars at College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign,” said Dean Michele Mariscalco. “Benita Katzenellenbogen, as one of our first faculty, has been a highly successful and valued educator. Training medical students who will impact the care of patients for generations to come is a unique opportunity, and both Drs. Katzenellenbogen have embraced this mission.”

In addition to their highly productive collaborations joining biology and chemistry, they have each led extremely distinguished, independent scientific careers. Dr. Benita Katzenellenbogen’s work has elucidated fundamental aspects of structure-function relationships and mechanisms of action of ERα and ERβ, and demonstrated the remarkably broad spectrum of estrogen actions on gene expression and cell signaling networks. Her extensive research has provided the framework for our current understanding of the basis for the actions of selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, and for the development of anti-hormonal therapies used in breast cancer treatment and prevention.

Dr. John Katzenellenbogen has studied important aspects of diverse estrogen ligands in various analytical and biomedical applications. He synthesized and characterized many estrogens with novel structures and biological activities, including the most selective agonists and antagonists for ERα and ERβ, and selective regulators of the non-genomic actions of ER. John’s laboratory has also been a world leader in the development of agents for imaging steroid receptors in endocrine-responsive cancers by positron emission tomography (PET), including [18F]FES and [18F]FDHT, for breast and prostate cancer. Both have been role models in service to their professions, and in training over 250 graduate students and postdoctoral and MD fellows. On the home front, the Katzenellenbogens are the parents of two daughters and they have four grandchildren.

“John and Benita Katzenellenbogen are research pioneers who have made important contributions to chemical and medical sciences, especially in the area of steroid hormones, as this most recent award attests,” said Dr. Gregory Girolami, head of the Department of Chemistry. “They have illuminated the fundamental molecular aspects of estrogen action and have developed innovative techniques for the imaging of breast and prostate cancers. In addition, they are wonderful colleagues who, through their teaching and their leadership, have contributed in many less visible but equally important ways to the University of Illinois. We are incredibly fortunate to have both John and Benita as members of our faculty, and it is gratifying to see that they have been recognized in this way.”

The Endocrine Society’s Koch Lifetime Achievement Award honors practicing physicians and academics worldwide who have greatly advanced the field of endocrinology and contributed to the diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of diseases involving the human endocrine system. The award includes a $25,000 honorarium and further recognition at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston in April 2016.

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Posted September 01, 2015.