In Memoriam

On June 16, our scientific community lost a highly influential and accomplished scientist, who served as role model for many colleagues, both professionally and as a wonderful person.  

Zena was born in 1945 in Bergen-Belsen in Germany, and, as a toddler, emigrated with her refugee family to Canada, where she was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto, and her Ph.D. degree in Cell Biology from Rockefeller University, under the mentorship of Zanvil Cohen. After her postdoctoral studies with John Dingle at the Strangeways Research Laboratory (United Kingdom), she was recruited to UC San Francisco (UCSF) in 1976. Zena was Professor and Vice-Chair in UCSF’s Department of Anatomy. She served as President of the American Society of Cell Biology in 2004, and was a recipient of numerous honors, including the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society of Cell Biology, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine. Just a few months before she died, Zena also received the Paget-Ewing Award, the highest award of the Metastasis Research Society.

Zena’s research evolved over the 44 years that she headed her lab. Starting with her interest in macrophages and rapidly moving into the contributions of metalloproteases in cell physiology, her research then focused onto how cells interact with the extracellular matrix (ECM), and mechanisms whereby ECM directs the physiological behavior and differentiation of cells. Her findings provided the first evidence for signaling from the ECM through integrins into cells. From these studies in both cell culture and in vivo models, she turned her attention from normal breast development to the control and deregulation of cell-ECM interactions in breast cancer. Her studies contributed greatly to our understanding of the roles of inflammation and epithelial-mesenchymal transition in cancer progression and dissemination of these and other tumor cells.

Zena’s legacy, illustrated by her extensive and highly cited publication record, will be carried forward by the many trainees who she mentored, and who have become investigators with their own research programs in both academia and industry. Besides her enormous impact in the fields of cell, developmental and cancer biology, Zena will also be warmly remembered by those with whom she interacted. She was first and foremost a mentor scientist who genuinely cared about the members of her lab. She frequently provided guidance and advice without ever wondering how this might further her own career. And for those working with her, she could always be counted on to bring delicious latkes on Hannukah and honey cake every Passover. She was also very outspoken and engaged, even if her advice and guidance were not agreed upon by some. But her opinion was always sought and welcomed. Additionally, Zena was especially committed to the career development of women scientists, and served as a role model for many women scientists. Finally, Zena will be remembered as a friend who cared about others, a real “Mensch”. She is gone, but will not be forgotten.

Rik Derynck (UCSF)

On behalf of TEMTIA (The EMT International Association)

June 30, 2020

Publications of Interest A small set of master EMT transcription factors (EMT-TF) have been identified on the basis of their ability to induce EMT when overexpressed individually in epithelial cells, including SNAI1/2, ZEB1/2, TWIST1/2 and TCF3/4. We explored their individual and combinatorial contribution to breast cancer EMT and metastasis and identified ZEB1 as the major EMT-TF implicated in full EMT and pulmonary dissemination (Alexey Ivanov, During the 2017 8th TEMTIA meeting, we organized a lively town hall discussion session on the definition of EMT. Most participants felt that there was a need for clarity in terminology and in defining key characteristic of EMT.  After two year-long discussion, the TEMTIA recently published a Consensus Statement in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology to clarify the nomenclature and provide definitions and guidelines for EMT research in future publications. We hope that such a consensus will help to eliminate semantic problems in the EMT debate and facilitates future EMT studies in diverse biological contexts. (recommended by Dr. Jing Yang from UCSD). In this work we investigated acute injury repair and development into chronic disease in the light of evolution and functional (engineer) requirement. Specifically related to EMT we showed that partial EMT contributes to relay and augmentation of the repairing signal, but also increases difficulty of resolution after repair and progression of fibrosis. (recommended by Jiahua Xing from University of Pittsburg) In this work we presented a procedure of generating CRISPR knockin constructs. We specifically have EMT genes as examples. Plasmid will be deposited to Addgene. (recommended by Jiahua Xing from University of Pittsburg) Biophys J. 2020 Mar 24;118(6):1243-1247. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2020.01.036. Epub 2020 Feb 5. PMID: 32087771

There is a notion that a cell may be either migrating or proliferating, but not both at the same time. This hypothesis received the memorable title of “Go-or-Grow”. Vitadello and colleagues examine this with melanoma cells in culture with fluorescent cell-cycle indicators, drugs, time lapse and mathematical modeling. They find no confirmation for this hypothesis. (recommended by Don Newgreen from MCRI)

EMT linkedin group

A linkedin group has been set up (

This is a platform for researchers who work on or are interested in EMT related studies to share information. The posts are for EMT research related topics (under a broad definition). To facilitate post searching, we recommend to have a title specifying content categories including: 1) New publication, 2) Event announcement, 3) Job posting, 4) Miscellaneous. (recommended by Jiahua Xing from University of Pittsburg)

Special Issue on EMT in Physical Biology

The special issue collects review and original research articles emphasizing the bidirectional interplay between physics and biology approaches in studying EMT. (recommended by Jiahua Xing from University of Pittsburg)

Relevant Meetings

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