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Biochemist Earns National Honor for Research Discoveries

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Cal State Fullerton chemistry and biochemistry professor Maria C. Linder has been named an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow for her distinguished research discoveries on how copper and iron function in the body.

Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers, according to the association, which publishes the journal Science.

This is Linder’s  second national honor for research. She received the 1993 American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and her laboratory was recognized as the leader in documenting a series of changes in the way copper is handled by the body when cancer is present.

This year, 347 AAAS members are being accorded the honor because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New fellows will be presented with the accolade Feb. 13 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Not enough women scientists, in general, are recognized, so it’s an honor to be acknowledged as someone who has contributed in my field,” said Linder, a longtime member of AAAS, which began naming fellows in 1874.

Linder is the recipient of numerous awards for her research and teaching, including the University’s Outstanding Professor Award (1985); L. Donald Shields Excellence in Scholarship and Creativity Award (2013); and the California State University Wang Family Excellence Award (2007). She also directs the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.

The veteran researcher earned her doctorate in biochemistry at Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral work at Harvard and MIT. Since joining the CSUF faculty in 1977, she has secured more than $12 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Heart Association, among others, for her research projects and the HHMI program.

Over the decades, Linder has been a leading advocate to give undergraduates opportunities to conduct research. She has mentored many students who have become scientists and health professionals. Each year, she has more than 20 students working in her lab.

Her Latest Research

An international expert in her field, Linder’s current studies on iron focus on how iron stores in the body are tapped when needed, as, for example, when one loses blood. Her studies on copper currently focus on how copper is absorbed from the diet and excreted, particularly when copper accumulates in high levels in the liver, as it does in some genetic diseases and also in dogs.

“People think we may fully understand seemingly simple processes, such as how copper is absorbed from the diet by cells of the intestine, and transported to all the different cells in various body organs, but that is not the case,” said Linder. “Much more information is needed to understand the processes, so that we can better understand what has gone wrong when excess copper accumulates and causes disease.”    

For instance, copper is important for energy metabolism, hormone production, such as adrenaline, and even melanin in the skin is dependent on copper.

As a result of her research efforts, including working with international colleagues, she has published 135 journal articles, many with her students as co-authors. She is currently finalizing a paper on her most recent investigation, which focuses on the main copper-binding protein in the blood plasma, “ceruloplasmin,” which is well known as an enzyme involved in iron transport, but has other functions.

“We have shown, and proven unequivocally, that ceruloplasmin directly delivers copper to cells and is thus a significant and important source of copper in the circulation,” Linder said.

Other studies have focused on iron absorption in the intestines and how copper is released from the body.

“We take in copper everyday, but it has to leave the body,” she said, adding it can cause a disease if too much accumulates in the liver. “We have found a new small molecule that we think allows copper to be excreted in the urine under certain conditions.”

Media Contacts:

Maria Linder, Chemistry and Biochemistry, 657-278-2472
Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027