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Elisabetta Dejana

2016 NAVBO Earl P. Benditt Award - Elisabetta Dejana, University of Uppsala

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The NAVBO Meritorious Awards Committee and Council are pleased to announce the selection of Elisabetta Dejana, Ph.D.,
as the 2016 recipient of the Earl P. Benditt Award, in recognition of her pioneering studies in endothelial cell biology and inflammation.  Dr. Dejana is currently Chief of the Angiogenesis Program, Institute of Molecular Oncology, Italian Foundation for Cancer Research (FIRC) in Milan, Italy and professor of Pathology at the Department of Immunology, genetics and Patology, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden.  She will present the Benditt Lecture and receive the award, one of NAVBO's highest honors, at the 19th International Vascular Biology Meeting (October 30-November 3, 2016) in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Dejana received her doctorate in Biological Sciences from the University of Bologna and has held a variety of research and academic posts in Paris, Grenoble, Stockholm, and Milan. She became Chief of the Angiogenesis Program at FIRC in 2000 and was appointed Full Professor of General Pathology in the School of Sciences at the University of Milan in 2002. She has participated on numerous scientific advisory boards, and her research contributions, reported in more than 300 scientific publications, have earned Dr. Dejana awards across Europe and in the US.

Dr. Dejana has achieved international recognition for elucidation of molecular mechanisms by which cells of the vascular endothelium interact with each other, with cells of the immune system, and with the extracellular matrix. These relationships are fundamental to any physiological process involving dynamics of blood vessel structure, including modulation of vascular permeability, angiogenesis or vascular regression, and well-regulated inflammation and hemostasis. These processes are of particular importance in cardiovascular diseases that involve pathologies of immune function, vascular leakage, hemorrhage and thrombosis.

A major contribution from Dr. Dejana’s laboratory has been characterization of the molecular architecture of endothelial cell-cell junctions. Her seminal 1992 paper in the Journal of Cell Biology reported the discovery of VE-cadherin as a key protein component of cell-to-cell adherence junctions. Subsequent research has revealed that formation of VE-cadherin/Β-catenin complexes not only shapes endothelial junctions but also allows transfer of intracellular signals that mediate such important functions such as endothelial tubulogenesis, establishment of polarity, contact inhibition of cell proliferation and inhibition of apoptosis. The impact of these findings throughout the international vascular biology community is evidenced by the appearance of >2100 publications related to VE-cadherin in peer-reviewed journals. In addition to VE-cadherin, Dr. Dejana identified the first member of the junctional adhesion molecule family (JAM-A), a small immunoglobulin-like molecule enriched at endothelial and epithelial cell-to-cell tight junctions. Her lab has found, using approaches of targeted gene modulation and blocking monoclonal antibodies, that JAM-A has a fundamental role in regulating leukocyte and tumor cell transmigration through endothelial cell-to-cell junctions.

More recently, Dr. Dejana’s research has explored the role of defective adherens junction components in Cerebral Cavernous Malformations (CCMs), lesions of the cerebral vasculature that can lead to hemorrhagic stroke and seizure disorders. The architecture of endothelial cell-cell junctions is markedly altered in this disease, producing the vessels that are fragile and with incomplete polarization and poorly formed lumina. The defective junctional components CCM1, -2, and -3 described by Dr. Dejana represent novel biochemical targets underlying this family of disorders, and her experimental systems that model the features of CCMs provide a valuable setting in which testing potential therapeutic compounds.

Please join us at IVBM in Boston this fall to honor Dr. Dejana as she receives this well-deserved award.  Dr. Dejana will give her talk, "Transcriptional Regulation of Endothelial Cell Plasticity in Health and Disease" on November 3, 2016 at the International Vascular Biology Meeting in Boston, MA.

Compiled by William R. Huckle,
NAVBO Editor

Read more about the Benditt Award