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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Mandler Retires from CSR

Dr. Mandler

Dr. Raya Mandler

“The first child of the first child”—that’s how Dr. Raya Mandler describes her childhood on Ramat Rachel, a 95-year-old kibbutz near Jerusalem, Israel. Mandler transferred her love of farming and closeness to animals and plants on the kibbutz to a biological scientific career that led her to NIH. She recently retired from the Center for Scientific Review as a scientific review officer.

Mandler’s grandparents were early pioneers in Israel. Her mother was the first child born on the kibbutz, a momentous event for the new community; her father came to Israel from Nazi Germany as a young man in the 1930s. In turn, Mandler was the oldest child in a family with another sister and a brother.  

“I grew up immersed in nature, so looking back, it was natural that I studied biology,” she said. Mandler remembers creating a make-believe cancer research lab as a child, complete with beakers, flasks and colored water as “chemicals,” a harbinger of her career to come.

She attended Haifa University and taught life sciences in high school for 2 years. During a summer program at the Weizmann Institute, a professor encouraged her to apply as a graduate student. “The Weizmann Institute exposed me to the fact that science flourishes on international collaborations,” she said. She studied at Case Western University and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, earning her Ph.D. in physiology. 

Mandler spent 8 years as a postdoc and staff associate at NCI. She was part of a team that focused on studies of membrane receptors that could be targeted for highly specific oncological therapy. The work culminated in an international patent for the development of immunoconjugates as novel reagents in breast cancer treatment.

Her switch to extramural research came when, she said, “I wanted to impact science in a different, broader way.” An exhibit about CSR, which she happened upon in Bldg. 31, intrigued her, and she applied for an internship in the center. 

Dr. Noni Byrnes, director of CSR’s Division of Basic and Integrative Biology, coordinated the intern program. Mandler then became an SRO supporting cell biology study sections under Byrnes. Byrnes said she appreciated Mandler’s candor, professionalism and drive to keep learning. “She also has tremendous scientific breadth,” Byrnes noted. She said these qualities enabled Mandler to handle the variety of scientific areas covered by her study sections and to recruit leading scientists as reviewers.

In 2007, Mandler was appointed to launch the molecular and integrative signal transduction (MIST) study section. “The mind power in the room [during study section meetings] was incredible,” Mandler said. She worked with several Nobel laureates and, she predicted, “probably several others who will be in years to come.”   

“She kept us on track and focused on the big picture,” said Dr. Richard A. Kahn, a former MIST chair from Emory University. “Those of us in the field will miss her voice in the conversations.” 

Mandler will continue conversations, but for a different purpose. A principal goal during retirement is to write a book about the kibbutz, including interviewing present and past members. As the “first child of the first child,” she has an important story to share.

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