Elwood V. Jensen, PhD

Elwood V. Jensen, PhD

Elwood V. Jensen, PhD (December 16, 2012 )

Dr. Elwood V. Jensen, a pioneer in steroid receptor biology died on December 16, 2012 at the age of 92 of pneumonia. He is credited by many with the discovery of the mammalian estrogen receptor, elaboration of its role in female reproductive tract endocrine function, and of it’s a prognostic importance in breast cancer. The latter led the development of pharmacological agents used to effectively treat breast cancer. His work has saved the lives of many women.

Dr. Jensen was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1920. He was initially home schooled by his mother, a teacher, and subsequently attended school in Ohio. He received his undergraduate education at Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio. His Ph.D. was obtained from the University of Chicago in 1944. He stayed on at that institution as a faculty member in the Ben May Laboratories. He completed several sabbaticals at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and while there climbed the Swiss face of the Matterhorn without prior mountaineering experience. In 1951, Dr. Jensen returned to the Ben May Laboratories for Cancer Research and became its Director in 1969. It was there that he made his pioneering discoveries in steroid receptor biology.

His discovery of the estrogen receptor resulted from a collaboration with the Nobel Laureate, Dr. Charles Huggins, in the mid-1950s. Dr. Jensen synthesized radioactive estrogen, administered it to ovariectomized rats and observed it localized to the uterus and other reproductive tissues which also underwent rapid proliferative changes. He hypothesized that it was an intracellular receptor. Subsequent work by Gorski and O’Malley confirmed that Jensen’s estrogen receptor acted as a nuclear transcription factor. Jensen then helped to work out the biochemistry of the estrogen receptor’s translocation to the nucleus and used an estrogen affinity column to purify the estrogen receptor from reproductive tissues to create a specific monoclonal antibody. This antibody allowed the first quantification of estrogen receptor expression in tissues and led to the discovery that estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers had a far better prognosis than estrogen receptor-negative tumors. Such characterization became a standard prognostic test used to guide the use of life preserving and life extending selective estrogen receptor modulator therapy. Jensen’s antibody also facilitated Pierre Chambon’s cloning of the estrogen receptor in 1986.

During a leave of absence from the University of Chicago between 1983 through 1988, Dr. Jensen served as Research Director for the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, in Zurich. After retiring from the University of Chicago in 1990, Dr. Jensen became a Scholar-in-Residence at Cornell Medical College, the Alexander von Humboldt visiting professor at the University of Hamburg, and a Nobel visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm. For the past ten years he served as the Distinguished University Professor, and George and Elizabeth Wile Chair in Cancer Research, at the University of Cincinnati’s department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy.

Dr. Jensen received numerous honors and awards throughout his lifetime. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2004. He was an honorary member of this society.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Dr. Jensen when he was in his late 80’s and found his understanding of and passion for science and molecular endocrinology simply extraordinary. He was a much admired, liked and respected scientist. His first wife, the former Mary Collette, died in 1982. In addition to his son, Thomas who lives in Ecuador, Jensen is survived by his second wife, the former Hiltrud Herborg, a daughter, Karen C. Jensen from New Hampshire and a sister, Margaret Brennan.

Submitted by Charles J. Lockwood, MD

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