Won 2004 No­bel Prize for chem­istry

IRWIN ROSE, 1926 - 2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Emily Fox­hall emily.fox­hall@la­times.com

On an Oc­to­ber morn­ing in 2004, a bleary-eyed UC Irvine chem­istry pro­fes­sor checked to see who had won the No­bel Prize in chem­istry. He found the names of a team of three sci­en­tists, in­clud­ing an Amer­i­can named Irwin Rose.

“Wait a sec­ond,” James Now­ick re­called think­ing. “That’s Ernie! That’s the guy I’m work­ing with!”

Now­ick called up his friend, who was re­lieved to find it wasn’t yet another re­porter. The hum­ble sci­en­tist sim­ply wanted to get back to the lab, “and by the end of the day, he did,” Now­ick re­called.

Rose died Tues­day in Deer­field, Mass., at the age of 88, ac­cord­ing to UC Irvine spokes­woman Janet Wil­son.

A sharp, pas­sion­ate and cu­ri­ous en­zy­mol­o­gist, Rose con­ducted his prize-win­ning work on how a cell gets rid of un­wanted pro­teins. It be­came text­book ma­te­rial. But he con­tin­ued to con­duct ex­per­i­ments, pub­lish sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles and pur­sue the in­tri­ca­cies of spe­cific en­zymes well into his Or­ange County re­tire­ment.

“By the time the No­bel Prize was awarded, he had moved on to other ques­tions,” Now­ick said. “He never dwelled on the past. He al­ways moved on to new op­por­tu­ni­ties and new fron­tiers.”

Rose was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 16, 1926. He spent his teenage years in Spokane, Wash., hid­ing out in the li­brary and read­ing sci­en­tific jour­nals, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in the lo­cal Spokesman-Re­view.

He re­ceived a doc­tor­ate in 1952 from the Univer­sity of Chicago and taught bio­chem­istry at Yale Univer­sity un­til join­ing the Fox Chase Cancer Cen­ter in Philadel­phia in the 1960s.

At the time, lit­tle had been un­der­stood about how cells work, said Dr. Jonathan Ch­er­noff, the cen­ter’s sci­en­tific di­rec­tor.

Most sci­en­tists had fo­cused on how pro­tein was syn­the­sized, but Rose har­bored an in­ter­est in just the op­po­site: how pro­tein was de­stroyed.

“Part of his ge­nius was rec­og­niz­ing these sort of im­por­tant, but off beat, ques­tions that other peo­ple weren’t fo­cused on,” Ch­er­noff said.

For about two decades, Rose made lit­tle progress. But af­ter meet­ing two other re­searchers, Rose in­vited them to Fox Chase for the sum­mer, and they brought a new tech­nique for break­ing cells open and study­ing them in a test tube, Ch­er­noff said.

Rose and his col­leagues suc­ceeded in de­tail­ing the mech­a­nism for how en­zymes are in­volved in at­tach­ing ubiq­ui­tin to old pro­teins, which marks them for de­struc­tion.

The dis­cov­er­ies led to at least one drug al­ready on the mar­ket, Vel­cade, which is now used to a treat mul­ti­ple myeloma.

“There are many, many more in the pipe­line, no doubt,” one of his re­search part­ners, Aaron Ciechanover, said by phone at a news con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the No­bel an­nounce­ment.

Cancer cells make a tremen­dous amount of pro­tein. If they can’t reg­u­late the pro­tein dis­posal, then the cells die, Ch­er­noff said. He com­pared the ef­fect of too many un­wanted pro­teins on such can­cer­ous cells to how a clogged garbage dis­posal might hin­der try­ing to wash the dishes.

Rose re­tired in 1997 to La­guna Woods and joined the phys­i­ol­ogy and bio­physics de­part­ments at UC Irvine, where he shared lab space with Ralph Brad­shaw, then a pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ment, whom he had met ear­lier in his ca­reer.

Rose had come by to see Brad­shaw, say­ing that he was think­ing of mov­ing to Or­ange County and won­der­ing if there might be a place he could work. Brad­shaw told him of course.

But months passed with no word from his friend, un­til one day, “he walks into my of­fice and says, ‘Here I am,’ ” Brad­shaw re­called.

Brad­shaw found a desk for him in the cor­ner, such as a grad­u­ate stu­dent might have, where “he was as happy as he could be.”

“You get so much at­ten­tion and no­to­ri­ety,” Rose said about the award in a 2005 in­ter­view at UC Irvine. “It’s been dif­fer­ent. I’ve been able to do some work, but not as much as I’d like to.”

Rose is sur­vived by his wife, Zelda; sons Fred­eric, Robert and Howard; a brother and five grand­chil­dren. He was pre­ceded in death by his daugh­ter Sarah.


UC Ir vine

Irwin Rose re­tired to La­guna Woods in 1997 and con­tin­ued to do re­search at UC Irvine.

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