- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Anita B. Roberts, 64, cancer researcher

Anita B. Roberts, a noted cancer researcher, died of gastric cancer May 26 at her home in Bethesda. She was 64.

Mrs. Roberts was born in Pittsburgh and lived in the D.C. area for 31 years.

She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1964 from Oberlin College in Ohio and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1968 for the study of the metabolism of retinoic acid.

She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Pharmacology.

After stints as a chemist at the Aerospace Research Applications Center in Bloomington, Ind., and as a teacher in the chemistry department at Indiana University, Mrs. Roberts joined the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Chemoprevention as a staff fellow in 1976. The institute is a part of the National Institutes of Health.

She and Michael Sporn discovered and characterized the cytokine transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) and subsequently established roles for this peptide in autoimmune disease, fibrogenesis, carcinogenesis and wound healing, which is forming the basics of new therapeutic approaches.

Mrs. Roberts was among the first group of scientists from the NIH elected to the Senior Biomedical Research Service and was president of the Wound Healing Society.

From 1995 to 2004, she served as chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Cell Regulation and Carcinogenesis.

Her research took a personal turn when she was diagnosed with gastric cancer in March 2004, and she created a Web site to explain the disease to her young grandchildren through a medieval fairy tale.

“When I was first diagnosed with this cancer, I was so angry about my research,” she told the Cancer Research journal this year. “That lasted about a week. Then I realized we now have drugs based on what we understand from our basic research. Now I’m comfortable with it.”

Mrs. Roberts was named the 49th most cited scientist in the world from 1983 to 2002 by the Institute for Scientific Information, making her the third most highly cited female scientist.

Her most recent research focused on identification of the roles of specific downstream signaling pathways of TGF-beta in disease pathogenesis and on applying this knowledge to designing novel therapies.

Mrs. Roberts received the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s Award for Excellence in Science last year and won the Leopold Griffuel Prize from the French Association for Cancer Research that year.

She and Mr. Sporn were honored with the 2005 Komen Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction.

Mrs. Roberts also authored more than 330 articles and served on numerous scientific advisory and editorial boards.

She was an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Her survivors include her husband of 41 years, Robert E. Roberts of Bethesda; sons Greg Roberts of Alpharetta, Ga., and Karl Roberts of Grand Rapids, Mich.; sister Dorrie Derge of Frederick, Md.; and five grandchildren.

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