In memoriam: Brenda Crews

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In memoriam: Brenda Crews


Brenda Ann Campbell Crews, a senior research fellow at Vanderbilt University, died on January 18 at the age of 72. Crews participated in several research programs at Vanderbilt, publishing more than 100 papers during his half-century career.

Brenda Crews

Crews was born on December 22, 1949 in Nashville, Tennessee. She played basketball and graduated from high school as a student. She fueled her passion for science by pursuing a degree in biology at Vanderbilt.

After graduating with honors in 1971, Crews accepted a position in the laboratory of Stanley Cohen in Vanderbilt’s Department of Biochemistry, marking the beginning of a 51-year career in biomedical research. (Cohen won, along with Rita Levi-Montalcini, the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of growth factors.)

Crews also supported the laboratories of Leon Cunningham and Peter Gethins, contributing to research on alpha 2-macroglobulin and antithrombin III.

In 1994, she began working with Lawrence Marnett on the role of the enzyme cyclooxygenase 2 in cancers affecting the digestive tract. In a recent tribute to Crews, Marnett recalled her as “a superb scholar who was constantly reading literature” and “a great experimenter who planned carefully and conducted meticulously”.

Crews’ more than 100 reports reflect her vast repertoire of skills and knowledge. Sixty-four of these papers were from Marnett’s laboratory. “Brenda was fearless experimentally. She has done protein purification, enzyme assays, cell imaging, signal transduction, in vivo pharmacology and much more. She ran our lab; she drew up all our animal protocols,” Marnette wrote.

In 2004, Crews was the first recipient of Vanderbilt’s Laboratory Science Award for Excellence in Basic Research.

Crews contributed not only to the advancement of scientific discovery, but also to the creation of a work environment filled with optimism, friendship and respect. Marnette describes her as a caring and loving person with a strong moral compass, always available to provide personal and professional guidance and support to everyone in the lab and especially international interns.

The teams also made the lab a fun place to work.

At a student colloquium in 2016, Marlene Jane, secretary of the biochemistry department for 40 years, recalled how much Crews enjoyed fooling Cohen on April Fool’s Day. Crews once managed to pull off an elaborate prank on Cohen, involving the complicity of Jane’s husband, Cohen’s wife, and several co-workers.

Crews is survived by daughter Heather Carmichael, son Jonathan Crews and four grandchildren.

She was a 2020 Fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.


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