David Ellis, the biologist who found protein pathways for genes, has died at the age of 71

David Ellis, a molecular biologist whose research significantly advanced his scientific understanding of how proteins interact with genes and helped lay the foundations for potential new drug treatments for lymphomas and other diseases, died Jan. 8 at a Seattle hospital. He was 71 years old.

His wife, Barbara, said Dr. Alice had been treated for cancer.

Dr. Alice’s discoveries have reshaped knowledge of the “on-off” and “volume” genetic switches known as gene expression, where the information encoded in a gene is turned into a function such as making proteins and RNA molecules that help regulate body functions. Any defects in this process, such as not activating a gene or activating it too much, can open the way to biological abnormalities and potential disease.

Medical researchers have long known that external factors such as diet, exercise, and smoking can affect gene expression, but they had no clarity on how this happens at the molecular level. Dr. Alice led teams that filled in the gaps and literally wrote new chapters in the field Epigeneticsand the study of how genes can be affected by lifestyle, environment, and other external influences.

Dr. Alice looked at the proteins, known as histones, which are natural envelope shrinkage: the squeezing of long strands of DNA into cellular bundles. the National Institutes of Health He described it as the equivalent of “packing 24 miles of very fine string into a tennis ball”.

Beginning with research in the 1980s on a single-celled aquatic creature called a tetramer, Dr. Alice found that histone proteins were more than just wrappers or spools, as had long been thought. Instead, histones are important pathways – via a ‘tail’ on the histone protein – for gene regulation and could become an important part of new medical therapies.

Dr. Alice said in 2001 that the association between histones and gene expression had “not been taken with a grain of salt” for decades. And for biotechnology companies and the medical community, it has been like going from “one book in the library” to setting up “an entire shelf.”

“This really points to promising new drug targets,” said Joanna Wysoka, a researcher and professor of developmental biology at Stanford University who did graduate work with Dr. Alice.

A handful of drugs known as Histone deacetylase inhibitors – Mainly regulating histone messages to genes – Developed to treat melanomas, lymphomas, and other blood-borne cancers. Researchers have also pursued histone-targeting drugs as potential treatments for heart disease and HIV infection.

A 2022 paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society suggested that histone gene interaction “may provide new insight” into the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Other avenues of study include how influences on the interaction of histones with genes might have roles in autism, preterm labor, and parturition.

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“[Dr. Allis] said Richard Lifton, president of the company rockefeller university, Dr. Alice was a professor and researcher from 2003 until moving to the Seattle area last year.

“These discoveries have had a profound impact on our basic understanding of biology,” he added.

Charles David Ellis was born on March 22, 1951, in Cincinnati, where his father was a city planner and his mother an elementary school teacher.

He started at the University of Cincinnati with plans for medical school, but became fascinated with cellular research during his senior year when a professor suggested he spend some time in the lab before deciding on medical studies.

Dr. Alice graduated in 1973 with a BA in Biology and received his Ph.D. in 1978 from Indiana University. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester—and later as a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Syracuse University—Dr.

For Dr. Alice, it was an ideal sample for its combination of high levels of histones and gene expression activity.

“[Dr. Allis’s] Robert Roeder, a professor of biochemistry at Rockefeller University, recalls that the main work was on xenobiotics, and he was criticized for it.

Alice’s grant application, said Roeder, a reviewer who asked why he wasn’t just working with “something important.”

Dr. Alice’s breakthrough came in 1996 by showing the links between histones and gene expression. It built on previous experiments by Michael Grunstein, a professor at UCLA, that explored how to activate histone tail receptors or silence gene expression in yeast cells.

In 2018, Dr. Alice and Grunstein became engaged to Albert Lasker The award, which is one of the most prestigious honors in medicine.

Besides his wife of 48 years, Dr. Alice lives with three children. sister; and two grandchildren.

Dr. Ellis liked to call himself the “scientific father” of the many postdocs who passed through his labs over the decades.

“His passion for research was contagious,” said Whisuka. He always said, “Every amino acid is important.” But then he adds, “But people are more important.”

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