March 14, 2014 by CRCHD Staff
Patricia Susana Lorenzo, Ph.D, an associate professor who worked in the Cancer Biology Program at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center’s since 2001, passed away on September 18, 2013, in Kailua, HI. A remarkably compassionate woman, friend, colleague, wife, and researcher, Lorenzo spent 20 years of her life arduously seeking better treatments for cancer, the disease to which she, herself, unfortunately succumbed.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she attended the University of Buenos Aires, earning her Ph.D in pharmacology in 1995. As a student, Lorenzo received numerous awards for her academic performance and research, including a Young Scientist Award from the Fundación Alberto J. Roemmers.
With the support of a Fogarty Visiting Fellowship, Lorenzo pursued postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Cellular Carcinogenesis and Tumor Promotion. It was there in the laboratory, working for five years alongside her mentor, Peter Blumberg, Ph.D, that the young scientist developed an interest in the study of the Ras guanyl releasing protein 1(RasGRP1) and other diacylglycerol targets in tumorigenesis. Lorenzo acquired a deep knowledge of the area, and that research focus continued even as Lorenzo moved on and stepped into assistant professorship and independent investigator roles at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in 2001. During her tenure, she also held faculty appointments in both the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Program and the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering at the University.
Remembering Lorenzo, Blumberg speaks highly of her: “It was my pleasure to have Dr. Lorenzo in my laboratory…Her success reflected her talent, her dedication, and her hard work.”
Never one to just rest on her laurels and rely on what her college professors taught her, Lorenzo believed she needed to continually be learning to keep pace with scientific advances. Her perseverance paid off in the form of several research grants from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations throughout the years.
Among her lab’s many scientific contributions was the finding that RasGRP1, a diacylglycerol receptor and Ras activator, played a key role in cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, a prevalent form of skin cancer. This was a key discovery in the field, not only because it challenged the widely held belief that diacylglycerol signals only through PKC isozymes in the skin, but also because it provided a previously unexplored link for Ras activation in the absence of oncogenic mutations, making it a potentially therapeutic target in skin cancers.
Lorenzo, in collaboration with the university’s chemistry department, also investigated the mechanism of action of natural products with promising anti-angiogenic activity, hoping to find a compound that could change the way cancer was treated.
A dedicated researcher, Lorenzo continued to garner awards for her outstanding work since receiving her Young Scientist Award. She was a recipient of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Minority Scholars in Cancer Research Award in 2003—an award sponsored by CRCHD for early-stage, meritorious scientists from institutions serving underrepresented populations , as well as the AACR Minority Scholar Award for Scientific Excellence in 2005.
Lorenzo also took a leadership role in promoting diversity in the biomedical workforce. From 2006 to 2007, she was appointed Council Member for the AACR’s Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR), a membership group within the AACR committed to preventing and curing cancer while meeting the professional needs and advancing the careers of underrepresented scientists.
A Roman Catholic Mass celebrating Lorenzo’s life was held at the Star of the Sea Church in Honolulu. She is survived by husband Daniel H. Maio, sons Dylan R. and Owen G. Maio, and daughter Fiona J. Maio.