Eugene and Ruth Roberts
The Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy has been an integral part of City of Hope for 63 years. The first two students enrolled in 1960. Today, more than 1,500 students have participated. The program was established by City of Hope’s director emeritus of neurobiochemistry and member of the National Academy of Sciences Eugene Roberts, Ph.D., who passed away in November 2016. His career with City of Hope spanned more than six decades.
Since 1977, the program director has been Paul Salvaterra, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences. In 2017, David Ann, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Diabetes Complications and Metabolism, became the program director for the academy’s 57th year. Salvaterra became program director emeritus.
Upon completion of his doctoral work at the University of Michigan in 1943, Roberts was recruited as the assistant head of the Manhattan Project’s inhalation section at the University of Rochester. The group to which he belonged set the legal safety limits for human exposure to uranium dust.
In 1946, he joined the Division of Cancer Research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. There he organized a group to study the nitrogen metabolism of normal and neoplastic tissues. The major conclusion of the studies was the generalization that "no matter how or from which tissue tumors arise, they more nearly resemble each other biochemically than do normal tissues or than normal tissues resemble each other.” The importance of the amino acid glutamine stood out.
Roberts’ research also led to the discovery of the presence of large amounts of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and spinal cord, and played a key role in establishing it to be the major inhibitory neurotransmitter.
In 1954, Roberts came to City of Hope to organize a research program. As a summer investigator for six years at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Maine, he was inspired by the summer student program that provided talented high school students with research opportunities. Among them were Howard Temin and David Baltimore, both of whom became Nobel Laureates. That program became a model for City of Hope's Summer Student Academy.
Roberts’ research focused on identifying major inhibitory command-control mechanisms at the levels of membranes, the genome, the brain and society.
He was supported by his wife, Ruth Roberts, who performed laboratory research and administrative tasks and managed the summer academy for many years. Ruth Roberts passed away in July 2023. Together, the couple embodied the ethos that scientific research is not a job but a passion and a way of life.