October 2007
Volume 48, Issue 10
Lecture  |   October 2007
Introducing Ilene K. Gipson, the 2007 Recipient of the Friedenwald Award
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science October 2007, Vol.48, 4390. doi:10.1167/iovs.07-0757
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      Michael S. Gilmore; Introducing Ilene K. Gipson, the 2007 Recipient of the Friedenwald Award. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2007;48(10):4390. doi: 10.1167/iovs.07-0757.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Ilene Gipson was raised on the family farm in the Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri. At an early age, she experienced challenges few of us face in a lifetime, including the continual improvisation that growing up on a small family farm requires. She also enjoyed the true wealth of life that a supportive extended family uniquely provides. She attended a small rural school in the tiny village of Freistatt, Missouri, which had been settled by German immigrants. One of the highlights of childhood was the monthly visit to her school of the county bookmobile. At an early age, she loved to select and read books. 
Her aunts and uncle played an important part in her childhood and became role models for Ilene’s lifelong commitment to education. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology at Drury College, where she recently was awarded an honorary doctorate as an outstanding alumnus and is a member of the Board of Trustees, Ilene attended graduate school at the University of Arkansas. There, she trained on the electron microscope and used her discerning skills to dissect the pathogenesis of Heterodera glycines infection of soybean roots. Visualizing life at the cellular and subcellular levels spawned her lifelong interest in cell biology. It was an early success that bred later success. 
At a cell biology meeting, she met the late Robert Burns and Lynette Feeney-Burns, who triggered in her a passion for vision research. She credits their tutelage and guidance, during the next phase of her career at the University of Oregon Health Science Center, as being particularly critical in her career development. She researched tyrosinemia and used her skills with the electron microscope to identify the pathologic tyrosine crystals associated with corneal epithelial lesions. Life in Oregon also spawned a lifelong interest in trekking through the mountains. 
In 1979 she was invited to join the Cornea Group at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, which was headed by Claes Dohlman and included Ken Kenyon and Art Neufeld. She credits the intellectually stimulating and exciting environment created by that group as being precisely the sort of atmosphere that charges a young investigator with the confidence and ambition necessary to shoot for the moon. We credit her chance encounter in those early days with Henry Keutmann, the love of her life and in so many ways her soul mate, with keeping her in Boston. 
As with most scientists launching their careers, the ideas and advances came faster than the money did! The associates in Ilene’s laboratory once sold sandwiches to raise funds for transportation to the ARVO meeting. 
Ilene and her group made fundamental discoveries regarding hemidesmosome formation. Her group showed in a 1990 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA that the α6β4 integrin heterodimer is a component of hemidesmosomes that mediate firm adhesion of epithelium to underlying stroma. 
It was at this point that her interests veered toward glycoproteins of the epithelial cell surface—in particular, the mucins. It is for advances in this area that she is perhaps best known. Many scientists had been deterred by the fact that the mucins have molecular masses in the millions of Daltons and are composed of more than 50% carbohydrate. There were few tools to analyze them, but the gritty pioneering farm girl from Missouri saw a fertile and open field ready for cultivation. She has published well over 100 original papers on the subject, trained several outstanding scientists in the field, is the founder of the interinstitutional Women’s Eye Health Task Force, and has made some of the most important observations in the field. Despite these many successes, she remains true to herself. One of her favorite comments is: “I estimate my wealth in terms of how many tomatoes we get each summer.” 
In the life journey that took her from small-town Missouri to the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard Medical School, she has always retained the wonderful qualities that propelled her along the path. It is a pleasure to introduce Dr. Ilene K. Gipson, this year’s Friedenwald Award Laureate. 

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