A year has passed since the death of Alicia Showalter
Showalter Reynolds, a 25-year-old fourth-year pharmacology doctoral student, disappeared on U.S. Route 29 in Virginia while driving home in March 1996. That May, her body was found in a shallow grave in a wooded area near Culpeper, Va. While her case received extensive media attention, authorities have not yet tracked down her killer.
By all accounts, Showalter Reynolds was an exceptional student as well as an exceptional person. For those whose lives she touched, memories of her are very much alive. But so, too, are the wounds created by her untimely death and absence. As the year since her death draws to a close, some healing is expected this week when the Alicia Showalter Reynolds Research Prize, established in her memory by the Dean's Office of the School of Medicine, is awarded for the first time. The prize will be presented April 10 on the School of Medicine's 20th Annual Young Investigator's Day, an event established in 1978 to recognize student investigators in the School of Medicine and provide them with a forum for presenting their work.
Doctoral candidate Laura Rusche, whose work in the purification and characterization of a trypanosome RNA editing complex won the award, was a friend and classmate of Showalter Reynolds'. According to Peter Agre, chairman of the Young Investigator's Day Awards Committee, Rusche is an especially fitting winner because her dedication and scholarship reflect characteristics exhibited by Showalter Reynolds. That Rusche and Showalter Reynolds were friends and classmates did not influence the awarding of the first prize, however. The winner is the student judged to be the most outstanding Ph.D. student based on scientific accomplishment.
Committee members expressed the hope that the first awarding of this prize might be a step in the healing process for those who were touched by Showalter Reynolds in life and who, through the award in her memory, will continue to be touched following her death.
"Alicia hoped to become a role model for women in science," Agre said. "A Young Investigator's Award in her name means that her spirit of scholarship has survived. As the first recipient of the Alicia Showalter Reynolds Award, Laura Rusche demonstrates how Alicia's intellectual spirit and scholarship will continue to inspire all young investigators at Johns Hopkins."
Showalter Reynolds and Rusche entered the pharmacology doctoral program in 1992. Both were interested in studying the biology of parasitic organisms. They often shared study and social time during the first demanding years.
"Laura and Alicia were good friends," recalls Barbara Sollner-Webb, professor of biological chemistry in the School of Medicine and Rusche's adviser. "Like Alicia, Laura is very serious, committed and industrious. However, Laura's work was selected for the award solely on the basis of her outstanding research."
The Alicia Showalter Reynolds prize was awarded to Rusche for her work on the mechanism of RNA editing, a form of nucleic acid maturation, in parasitic trypanosomes. Rusche's research provided evidence that trypanosome RNA editing occurs enzymatically, not by a previously popular model of RNA-based catalysis. "Laura purified the basic editing enzymes," Sollner-Webb said. "Her analysis has provided a much greater understanding of RNA editing and has initiated the cloning and characterization of component activities."
After the first years of the doctoral program, Showalter Reynolds' and Rusche's interests in parasites diverged in their lab work, and their contact became less frequent.
"Alicia hoped her work would lead to the development of a vaccine against bilharzia, a disease prevalent in tropical regions caused by schistosomes," recalls Rusche. "I remember clearly the last time I spoke with her. I recall being struck by her unusual enthusiasm for her work. She was in the middle of a vaccine trial and eagerly awaiting the results. I came to appreciate her positive attitude. I think this award will help us to remember her as a student and a scientist," Rusche adds. "It will also remind us of her dedication, tenacity, optimistic spirit and intelligence. Alicia had a desire to help others through science. I am very honored to receive the award, I just hope that my work does justice to the award and to Alicia."
A List of Awardees
David M. Sabatini
Todd A. Waldman
Stephen M. Soisson
Douglas E. Bassett Jr.
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