–by Marie Jung
On August 24th, 2016, the San Diego community and the rest of the world lost one of the brightest minds to have graced the surface of the earth. Robert Tsien, Ph.D and Nobel Laureate opened up countless doors in the clinical research and medical fields with his groundbreaking developments. To commemorate his life, here are a few of his most well known projects.
Work with Neurons
Although his most famous works are heavily involved with chemistry, Dr. Tsien was originally a neuroscientist by trade. The influence of his education can be seen with some of the applications to his later discoveries as well as his earlier innovations. One of his latest publications was about the dynamics of signal transduction in neurons, a topic that elucidates a fraction of the previously murky and mysterious workings of the human nervous system. It is also hugely important to the topic of public health by providing some insight into addiction, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegeneration.
One of the most plentiful and important biomolecules, calcium is known to play a vital role in various signal transduction pathways in the human body. Tracking calcium through imaging with various indicators allows for medical professionals and researchers to show the status of calcium in any number of cells. Many of these calcium indicators, which are dyes that respond to the presence of calcium, such as Fura-2 and Indo-1 have been developed by Dr. Tsien. This technology has provided the means for studying medically relevant cells like T-cells and cardiac cells, and also provided the foundation for a part of molecular medicine.
Considered by many to be his magnum opus, Dr. Tsien’s discovery of the green fluorescent protein, or EGFP, created a revolution in the scientific community. Known for being a noninvasive and heritable reporter of expression, EGFP has an infinite amount of applications. Through this innovative development, we see Dr. Tsien’s outstanding skill and creativity as a scientist. On the inspiration for the EGFP, Dr. Tsien had said: “I’ve always been attracted to colors. Color helps make the work more interesting and endurable. It helps when things aren’t going well. If I had been born color-blind, I probably never would have gone into this.” The synthesis of art and science in creating the EGFP is not only fascinating in its design but also through its enormous usefulness. As the precursor to biosensors, the fluorescent protein aided in processes like microscopy, and is currently in the works to be used as an assistant in cancer surgeries.
As tempting as it is to commemorate Dr. Tsien for his numerous accolades, the most important part of his legacy is the work behind those awards. He had, quite literally, illuminated the world with his life.