Friday October 6, 2017

‘Takis’ Tsonis Memorial Lecture

Harvard Medical School department of genetics chair Cliff Tabin spoke last week at the University of Dayton in honor of his late friend and colleague, Panagiotis “Takis” Tsonis, a biology professor and prominent researcher who died in September 2016 at age 63.

Tabin, a National Academy of Sciences member who received both the Edwin Conklin Medal and March of Dimes Prize for his work in developmental biology, delivered the annual Panagiotis A. Tsonis Memorial Lecture on Sept. 28 to a standing room-only audience in the University Science Center auditorium.

“Takis really was both a great colleague and a great friend, and it’s a huge loss,” Tabin said. “To be able to come here and share some of my impressions of him and talk about our work in his honor was a real privilege.”

Tabin was invited by Tsonis’ wife and research colleague, Katia Del Rio-Tsonis, a biology professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She said Tabin played a critical role in her late husband’s groundbreaking research in tissue regeneration. Both scientists did postdoctoral work that involved limb regeneration and development; both also went on to research evolutionary traits.

“The other thing they have in common is Cliff has a lot of fun with what he does,” Del Rio-Tsonis said. “That is a trait that sometimes is rare in scientists — they get very focused on a particular question. Cliff has a ball when he is doing research and Takis did, too.”

Tabin, who also visited the University of Dayton in 2014 at Tsonis’ invitation, devoted the first half of his lecture to his laboratory’s work on the role of physical forces in gastrointestinal tract development, because that was the topic of his last conversation with Tsonis. The second half addressed recent work comparing the evolutionary systems of cave-dwelling fish and their free-swimming river cousins.

Amit Singh, associate professor and director of the graduate program in biology, said the lecture was an excellent opportunity for faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to hear from a highly accomplished scientist with more than 200 publications and numerous accolades to his credit.

Tabin received a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Chicago before earning his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did postdoctoral research at Harvard University, followed by limb development research at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was appointed to Harvard Medical School’s faculty in 1989, promoted to full professor in 1997 and became genetics department chair in 2007.

Singh, interim director of the Center for Tissue Regeneration and Engineering at Dayton (TREND), hosts the Tsonis memorial lecture series, which features researchers who have made significant contributions and developed insights into the field of regeneration.

“That is a credit to Takis’ work because research was his passion,” Singh said.

The series is sponsored by the department of biology and TREND center, with support from the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s office. The series began in November 2016 with Jason Spence, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, who did his doctoral research in Del Rio-Tsonis’ lab.

Tsonis helped establish TREND in 2006 as an Ohio Center of Excellence in the field of biomedicine and health care. He studied tissue regeneration in the newt for more than 30 years with grant support from the National Institutes of Health, unlocking the processes that ultimately could enable humans to regrow tissue, organs and other parts of the body. In all, he received more than $6 million in research funding from the NIH, the Arthritis Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation.

“Takis was the leader of research on our campus and brought a lot of prestige to our research programs,” Singh said. “He was extensively funded by NIH and other supporters, and was instrumental in graduating many talented researchers from his lab who are now well-established in their careers.”

In addition to the lecture series, Singh is organizing a spring 2018 conference on campus in Tsonis’ name that will feature international researchers in regenerative biology and showcase TREND’s research in the field of biology and biomedical care.

For more information about TREND, please visit the center’s website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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