In Memoriam: Karen Louise Steinmetz

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Karen Louise Steinmetz (1958–2013)

Submitted by Jon C. Mirsalis

Karen Louise Steinmetz passed away on August 19, 2013, after a year-long battle with uterine cancer. Karen graduated from UC-Davis with a BS in Psychology in 1980. After a brief period working at Syntex, she joined SRI International’s Life Sciences Division in February of 1982 as a Biological Technician, and she quickly rose through the organization, becoming the first non-PhD in the Division’s history to be promoted into the scientist category. She developed and published on new assays for measurement of genotoxicity in pancreatic cells, cell proliferation assays as an indicator of carcinogenesis, human hepatocyte assays, and seminal papers on the mechanisms of carcinogenicity of methapyrilene and paradichlorobenzene. While working at SRI full-time she obtained her MA in Toxicology from San Jose State University in 1986. 

In 1991, she left SRI to enter a doctoral program at Indiana University in the laboratory of Jim Klaunig, where she conducted research on the role of transforming growth factor-α (TGF-α) in liver carcinogenesis. She received her PhD in 1996, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Henry Pitot at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin, where she studied hypomethylation of the rat glutathione S-transferase p (GSTP) promoter region. 

After completing her postdoc, she returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where she held several positions at biotech companies, including Toxicologist at Alza Corporation; Head of the Toxicology and Pharmacology Group at Xenogen Corporation; and Associate Director of Toxicology at Sugen Inc. She rejoined SRI as Director of Mammalian Toxicology in 2003, where she won and managed several important new contracts, including a NIA-funded program for preclinical development of drugs for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and a NICHD-funded program for development of new contraceptive drugs. She became widely known and respected in a broad range of fields including genetic toxicology, carcinogenesis models, Alzheimer’s disease, neurotoxicity testing, and juvenile animal models. She has been certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT) since 2003.

She served on many Committees and in leadership roles of the Society of Toxicology including Carcinogenesis Specialty Section (SS) Councilor (2001-2002), Neurotoxicology SS Secretary/Treasurer (2006–2008), and on the Finance Committee (2011–present).  She also was very active in the Northern California (NorCal) Regional Chapter of SOT, serving as both a Councilor (2007–2009) and as President (2011–2012).

Karen was an avid outdoors enthusiast, having white water rafted on several continents, often telling stories of dodging hippos on the Zambezi River, or catching rattlesnakes on the Upper American River.  She was also an accomplished pianist and artist, as well as a devoted supporter of public television, often working phone banks during San Francisco station KQED’s pledge drives.

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