Honoring a Mentor Offers an Opportunity for Reflection

Dr. Ruth Hogue Angeletti beside an image of her mentor, Nobel winner, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini
Dr. Ruth Hogue Angeletti beside an image of her mentor, Nobel winner, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini

In her laboratory in the Ullmann building, Dr. Ruth Hogue Angeletti, scientific director of the Laboratory for Macromolecular Analysis & Proteomics at Einstein, collaborates with other Einstein researchers on proteomics studies to understand the inner workings of the cell and to identify disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets. Her work addresses questions such as cognitive impairment related to HIV infection, prognostic indicators of oral cavity cancer and drug-protein interactions. Her laboratory group uses high sensitivity, high resolution mass spectrometry to achieve these biological insights.

Thanks to revolutions in technology, the research she conducts today has come a long way from her days as a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow in St. Louis and in Italy, in the laboratory of Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for her discovery of the nerve growth factor (NGF). During her days in Dr. Levi-Montalcini's laboratory, Dr. Angeletti trained in experimental embryology, cell and tissue culture, and investigated the structure of NGF and its relationship to biological activity. "That experience kindled my interest in using analytical technologies to address exciting biological problems," recalled Dr. Angeletti, who also is professor of developmental & molecular biology and of biochemistry. "It's a passion that continues to this day."

Dr. Angeletti recently had the opportunity to reflect on her experiences as Dr. Levi-Montalcini's sole American graduate student when she was an invited speaker at a special symposium, "The Liberty of Knowledge: Remembering Rita Levi-Montalcini," hosted at the Centro Primo Levi in Manhattan, to honor the memory and legacy of her mentor. The center, which hosts events that celebrate and explore the culture, diversity and achievements of the Italian Jewish community, is named after the eminent Italian Jewish chemist, Holocaust survivor and author.   

Reminiscing about her years at both Washington University in St. Louis and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome, Dr. Angeletti said, "The time I spent working with Dr. Levi-Montalcini was a comprehensive scientific, personal and cultural experience. Her intellect, compassion and relentless enthusiasm for science left a strong impression on me."  

She added, "Dr. Levi-Montalcini's commitment to science was complemented by her role as a civil rights activist and ardent supporter of women's education in Africa. Her exemplary leadership, patience and willingness to lend a helping hand continue to guide me in my own role as a professor and mentor to students and postdocs."  

Taking part in the symposium also afforded Dr. Angeletti the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. "Seeing my former colleagues and friends, all connected by Rita, reminded me of what a life in science can be and how life can be lived," she said. Dr. Levi-Montalcini died in December 2012, at the age of 103. At the time, she was the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday.

"Dr. Levi-Montalcini's influence on my life and scientific career is something I value greatly. During a conversation we had on the occasion of her 100th birthday, she asked, 'Ruth, are you still working as passionately as before?'

"My answer, of course, was 'Yes!'"


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