February 26: Dr. Renã Robinson
Dr. Renã A. S. Robinson, associate professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University, works to build public awareness for her body of work related to racial and ethnic disparities in Alzheimer’s disease. An analytical chemist, she studies the science behind Alzheimer’s through the large-scale study of proteins. The disease disproportionately affects African Americans and Hispanics, likely contributed by socioeconomics, genetics and overlapping health conditions—such as hypertension.
Dr. Robinson’s interest in aging dates back to her childhood. Her mother spent her spare time as a caregiver attending to elderly people with dementia. “The physical and mental changes I saw in these individuals touched my heart,” Robinson recalled.
Now an analytic chemist, Robinson is investigating the science behind this very human condition. She is employing the emerging field of proteomics to study the process of aging as well as neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
A beloved teacher at her Louisville, Kentucky, high school inspired Robinson’s interest in chemistry, spurring her to earn a bachelor’s in chemistry at the University of Louisville before pursuing a doctorate in chemistry at Indiana University. At the time, her laboratory at IU was doing pioneering research studying proteins in simple ways using an instrument called an ion-mobility mass spectrometer, which can simultaneously measure the size and mass of big biomolecules like proteins. This put her at the forefront of the emerging field of proteomics—the study of proteins that come in myriad sizes, shapes and configurations and are the basic components of living cells.
After two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky, Robinson joined the chemistry department at the University of Pittsburgh. There she established a research program using proteomics to study aging, Alzheimer’s and other applications relevant to human health. Her efforts prompted Chemical and Engineering News to give her its Talented Twelve Award in 2016, identifying her as one of the world’s brightest young minds in the field of chemistry.