Sylvia Christakos, Ph.D.
Institution: Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School
Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research focus: Vitamin D: function and regulation
1) What brought you to the bone field and why have you stayed?
I was a post doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Anthony Norman when I attended the first ASBMR meeting in Anaheim California in 1979. At that time our efforts in the lab were focused on determining the mechanism of action of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 which was recently found to act like a steroid hormone. This was a very exciting time. An increasing number of scientists began to focus their research on understanding bone biology and mechanisms involved in maintaining mineral homeostasis. The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research was a new society which was beginning to bring together basic scientists as well as clinical researchers to discuss and exchange new developments in the field, including new findings related to vitamin D. There were approximately 150 people in attendance. At this time we were only beginning to understand that vitamin D can act at tissues in addition to bone, kidney and intestine. It was such an opportunity for me at that time to be able to present our work at a meeting attended by leaders in the field, Lou Avioli, Claude Arnaud, John Potts, and Larry Raisz, who encouraged young investigators and provided helpful and constructive comments. Shirley Hohl, the secretary of the society, knew everyone’s name and welcomed us all. This organization was like no other. ASBMR provided an outstanding, encouraging and personal environment in which even a young investigator could interact with experts in the field and exchange ideas. When I started my own lab I knew I wanted my students and post doctoral fellows to present their best work at the ASBMR meetings. Although the society has grown (there are now nearly 4,000 members) ASBMR still maintains the same encouraging and welcoming environment where established as well as new investigators can openly discuss their work and exchange ideas. ASBMR, my colleagues and collaborators and the friendships I have made through the years have been a significant part of my life. My students, post doctoral fellows and I look forward each year to the ASBMR meetings (I have not missed a meeting since 1979) to present our work, to learn from others and to meet and interact with our colleagues and collaborators.
2) What was the most memorable moment of your career?
Being a mentor to 24 Ph.D. students as well as to post doctoral fellows and contributing, through our research, new information that has changed the way we think about the mechanism of action of vitamin D are two of the most significant aspects of my career. I have learned so much from the students and post doctoral fellows in my lab. It has been a privilege for me to participate in their training and education. Receiving the Gideon Rodan excellence in mentorship award from ASBMR is a highlight of my career.
3) What is the importance of membership and leadership with ASBMR?
I have been a member of the following committees: Education, Ethics, Executive, Women in Bone and Mineral Research and Minority Affairs subcommittee. In addition I have been basic science program chair, I have been associate editor of the Primer and of JBMR®, I have contributed chapters to the Primer and I have been President of ASBMR (2005). The importance of leadership in ASBMR is that it provides the opportunity to make a difference, to change things, to develop a meeting which features exciting new developments in the field. During my time as president of ASBMR we established the Women in Bone and Mineral Research Committee and the Minority Affairs subcommittee. Since my time as president I have seen more women become ASBMR president and more women and minorities in leadership positions. I encourage others to get involved, change things, and make a difference!
Dr. Christakos is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School.