Edwin G. Krebs-Hilma Speights Endowed Professorship for Cell Signaling and Cancer Biology
The Edwin G. Krebs-Hilma Speights Endowed Professorship for Cell Signaling and Cancer Biology was established in 2008. Its purpose is to enhance the University’s ability to recruit and retain distinguished faculty in cell signaling and cancer biology research and to pay tribute to two people: former UW Medicine faculty member Edwin G. Krebs, M.D., and donor Hilma Speights.
Edwin G. Krebs, M.D., was a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the Department of Biochemistry at UW Medicine. Dr. Krebs joined the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1948 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry. In 1954, he began to collaborate with Edmond H. Fischer, Ph.D. (now a professor emeritus of biochemistry). For 14 years, the two scientists conducted metabolic research, and in 1956, they made the discovery for which they may be best known: the process of reversible protein phosphorylation, which controls a variety of biological functions in the cell, including the production of chemical energy, the breakdown of fats and the growth and division of cells. Their discovery would open the door to many other health-related research projects in the coming decades, such as research in cancer, blood pressure, inflammatory reactions and brain signals — and it fostered techniques that support transplanted organs. For their work, the two men received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In 1968, Dr. Krebs moved to California to become the chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry at UC-Davis. He returned to the UW in 1977 to lead the Department of Pharmacology, and he served as chair until 1983.
Contributor Hilma Speights began work early, at the age of 18, when she joined Alcoa. She worked with the company for over 35 years, when she took an early retirement. Although Ms. Speights didn’t live in Seattle — she and her husband owned land in Washougal, Wash. — she felt a strong affinity for UW Medicine. A good friend of hers had been treated for breast cancer at UW Medical Center, and although her friend died, Ms. Speights felt grateful for her care. As a result, Ms. Speights supported cancer research at UW Medicine for many years.
Ms. Speights enjoyed staying busy: traveling to other countries, volunteering at Clark College and at a local elementary school, becoming involved in Clark College’s learning opportunities for seniors, and visiting with friends. She hoped that, one day, a cure for cancer would be found, and she directed a portion of her estate to the UW Medicine for cancer research. Sadly, Ms. Speights contracted pancreatic cancer and died in 2004.
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