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Van Houten Honored by Slovak Academy of Sciences

By Eddy Ball
June 2008

Van Houten received the prestigious
Van Houten received the prestigious "Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences for Support of Science" at its 5th DNA Repair Workshop. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Skorvaga shows off his
Skorvaga shows off his "Golden Girls" going away present from colleagues at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Ben Van Houten)

NIEHS scientist Ben Van Houten, Ph.D., had several good reasons to look forward to his long flight to Bratslava, Slovak Republic for the "5th DNA Repair Workshop May 25 - 29, where he was to be honored with the "Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) for Support of Science." Van Houten, who holds a dual appointment as chief of the Program Analysis Branch and Senior Investigator in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at NIEHS, is being recognized for his scientific achievements, as well as his long-term collaborations with and assistance to investigators at the SAS Cancer Research Institute.

Van Houten said of his award, "I have a deep admiration for the spirit of the scientists in the Cancer Research Institute, and this is quite an honor. I just wish I could do more to help scientists in this wonderful country. They don't always have all the resources they need and could use much more assistance from scientists in Western Europe and the United States."

In his work with these Slovak Republic investigators, Van Houten has formed especially fruitful collaborations with Milan Skorvaga, Ph.D., and Zdena BartošovÁ, Csc. - KandidÁt Vied, a third-year graduate degree that corresponds to the Ph.D.  Skorvaga was a postdoctoral fellow who followed Van Houten to NIEHS from Texas and a collaborator on 16 papers between 1999 and 2007, when he returned to the Slovak Republic to join the Cancer Research Institute. BartošovÁ is currently the principal investigator on a two-year project exploring the role of genetic, epigenetic and phenotypic markers of the MDR1 gene and protein for the prognosis and treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.

Along with receiving his award, Van Houten gave the keynote address during the opening session of the workshop( Exit NIEHS Website, which was devoted to research on DNA repair. He is one of only two scientists from the United States who will be presenting at this international conference.

Van Houten's talk was titled "Seeing the light: Watching DNA repair one molecule at a time." It reports the results of experiments that were recently published on-line ahead of print in the journal NanoLetters, the highest impact journal, with an impact factor of 9.6, featuring work in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology..

As the abstract for his talk explains, "These experiments [using quantum dots] mark the beginning of a new single molecule approach to understanding the kinetics and order of processes that underlie prokaryotic NER [nucleotide excision repair]." The work, he and his colleagues add, also "demonstrate[s] that quantum dots can serve as a molecular marker to unambiguously identify the presence of a labeled protein in AFM [atomic force microscopic] images."

Preparing for his trip, Van Houten said he also hoped to enjoy Bratislava, one of Eastern Europe's most beautiful cities during the region's most delightful seasons prior to the meeting held at the Smolenice Castle. The castle, which sits in the Little Carpathian Mountains about 36 miles (60 km) northeast of Bratislava, dates from the 14th century and currently is the headquarters of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

SAS( Exit NIEHS Website consists of 54 research institutions, and specialized and service organizations. The organizations are grouped into three sections, Section I - Physical, Space, Earth and Engineering Sciences, Section II - Life, Chemical, Medical, and Environmental Sciences, and Section III - Social Sciences, Humanities, Arts and Culture, according to the scope of their research. The academy is engaged in a number of partnerships with scientific bodies in other nations. It is also a major publisher of academic journals, offering more than 60 titles in Slovakian and English in nine areas of the humanities, arts, and pure and applied sciences.

Citation: Wang H, Tessmer I, Croteau DL, Erie DA, Van Houten B.( Exit NIEHS Website 2008. Functional Characterization and Atomic Force Microscopy of a DNA Repair Protein Conjugated to a Quantum Dot. Nano Lett April 30 (Epub ahead of print)

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