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NHLBI's Stadtman Wins L'Oreal Lifetime Achievement Award

By Louise Williams

Dr. Thressa Campbell Stadtman, chief of the section on intermediary metabolism and bioenergetics in NHLBI's Laboratory of Biochemistry, has received the first Lifetime Achievement Award presented by UNESCO-L'Oreal at a special ceremony in Paris earlier this year.

The award is part of a "For Women in Science" Program, which was created in 1998 by UNESCO and L'Oreal. The purpose of the program is to encourage the participation of women in science worldwide. The L'Oreal-Helena Rubinstein Awards highlight the achievements of women scientists.

Stadtman was one of about 100 candidates considered by the award committee, which was composed of 14 distinguished scientists from around the world and chaired by Christian de Duve, 1974 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine. During its deliberations, the committee determined that Stadtman's scientific achievements were so outstanding that they required a special award. Therefore, UNESCO and L'Oreal presented her with the first L'Oreal Lifetime Achievement Award, which carries a prize of $30,000. Stadtman has donated the prize to the NHLBI Gift Fund.

Dr. Thressa Stadtman holds her award from L'Oreal.

In presenting the award at UNESCO's Paris headquarters, de Duve said, "Thressa Stadtman represents the kind of intelligence, determination and commitment which have made her a preeminent figure in world science. She is an example for students everywhere and a role model for all women scientists."

Her career is highlighted on a special web page created by L'Oreal. The address is

Stadtman has made many major contributions to biomedical research on topics ranging from vitamin B12 metabolism to selenium biochemistry. Now in her 50th year of work at NIH, she said, "I hope never to have to retire. It would be giving up something that I've always found exciting."

She was born on Feb. 12, 1920, in Sterling, N.Y. She earned a B.S. in bacteriology at Cornell University in 1940 and an M.S. in 1942. From there, she went to the University of California in Berkeley, where she met and married Earl Stadtman in 1943. They both completed their Ph.D.s at Berkeley in 1949 and went on to Harvard Medical School for postdoctoral studies.

At Harvard, Thressa Stadtman worked in the laboratory of Christian B. Anfinsen. In 1950, when Anfinsen moved to NIH, he invited both Stadtmans to join his laboratory in the then-National Heart Institute.

Later, she conducted research as a guest scientist in the laboratories of D.D. Woods in Oxford, F. Lynen in Munich, and Marianne Grunberg-Manago in Paris.

Initially, Stadtman studied the mechanisms of amino acid fermentation and methane production from carbon dioxide. Her work added significantly to the understanding of anaerobic electron transport and vitamin B12 metabolism — in fact, she and her coworkers discovered four of the 12 known vitamin B12-dependent enzyme systems.

Her studies also have helped confirm that the free form of B12 can function as a methyl group carrier and that its deoxyadenosyl coenzyme forms serve as hydrogen carriers. This knowledge provided the basis for the current understanding of methane biosynthesis.

Stadtman's studies of selenium biochemistry include the first demonstration that selenium occurs in a selenocysteine residue in protein and plays an essential role in the catalytic activity of many selenoenzymes. She and her coworkers have discovered and characterized many of the known selenoenzymes. In addition, they discovered that 5-methylaminomethyl-2-selenouridine is a modified nucleoside in seleno-tRNA and that selenophosphate is the selenium donor for biosynthesis of these tRNAs and also for most of the known selenoenzymes. More recently, she and her colleagues have contributed significantly to the definition of the biochemical mechanisms by which selenium is inserted into nucleic acids and proteins.

Stadtman is the author of more than 180 publications. Among her many honors are the 1987 William C. Rose Award from the American Society of Biological Chemists and election in 1981 to the American Academy of Sciences and in 1982 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has even had an organism named after her — Methanospaera stadtmaniae. She and her husband, both azalea and rhododendron lovers, also were honored by colleagues who arranged to have a newly developed deciduous azalea named after them — it's called Stadtmans azalea.

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