Roger Y. Tsien, PhD, Nobel laureate and Fellow of the AACR Academy, died August 24, 2016, at the age of 64. Tsien, professor of pharmacology, chemistry, and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was an active member of the AACR since 2011.
Tsien received the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.” He shared the prize with colleagues Martin Chalfie and Osamu Shimomura.
A fascination with colors led Tsien to revolutionize the fields of cell biology and neurobiology. He is renowned for developing colorful dyes to track the movement of calcium within cells, work that began when, as a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, he set out to measure intracellular calcium, which at that time was a laborious process. Tsien’s work has led to genetically modified molecules that make jellyfish and corals glow, creating fluorescent colors in a dazzling variety of hues that allow scientists to peer inside living cells and watch the behavior of molecules in real time. With multicolored fluorescent proteins, they can track where and when certain genes are expressed in cells or in whole organisms.
Tsien’s more recent research was building on his fluorescent protein work to develop a novel way to image and possibly even deliver specially targeted drugs to cancer tumors. He and his colleagues had built U-shaped peptide molecules to carry an imaging molecule or chemotherapeutic agent.
Born Feb. 1, 1952, in New York City, Tsien received the first of his many awards in 1968 as a senior at Livingston High School in New Jersey – the nationwide Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He graduated from Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and received his doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Tsien completed a fellowship at Cambridge’s Gonville & Caius College before returning to the United States as an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982. He joined the faculty at UCSD in 1989, where he had remained since.
He was elected to the inaugural class of Fellows of the AACR Academy in 2013. As an AACR member, he actively participated in AACR Annual Meetings and Special Conferences as both an attendee and invited speaker, and was a member of the Chemistry in Cancer Research Working Group.
Tsien’s other prestigious honors include the Canada Gairdner International Award, the Max Delbrück Medal in Molecular Medicine, the Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, the Keio Medical Science Prize, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science, the E. B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology, the Spiers Memorial Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry in London, and a Distinguished Scientist award from the American Heart Association. In addition, he was an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, and an elected foreign member of the Royal Society of London.